Shortly after the Indianapolis Colts survived a 17-13
slugfest against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a cheer arose from the
home locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It had little to do with the team evening its record at 3-3 and joining a
crowded AFC wild-card playoff race and everything to do with the news
delivered moments earlier by owner Jim Irsay.
Head coach Chuck Pagano, receiving treatment for acute leukemia, was
released from the IU Health Simon Cancer Center on Sunday morning and
watched the Colts’ victory from home.
“I’m thrilled to hear about that,” rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said.
“I’m more thrilled about that than the win.”
Pagano will continue receiving treatment at home as his body struggles to
produce healthy blood cells. And Indianapolis interim head coach Bruce
Arians hopes the win over the Browns didn’t prompt a brief setback.
“I’m sure he’s feeling great right now,” Arians said. “Hopefully, he
didn’t get too daggone exhausted coaching from the bedroom and his count
didn’t go down. As long as his count stays up, he’s going to be in great
The same can be said for the football team that takes on more and more of
its coach’s fighting mentality each week.
The win against Cleveland (1-6) seldom was pretty, but it was as important
as any victory in this young season. Having already dropped a winnable
home game against Jacksonville, the Colts could ill afford another step
backward against a struggling conference foe.
Making the situation more dire was a banged up defensive line that was
forced to include newcomers Clifton Geathers and Lawrence Guy in the rotation.
Guy arrived in Indianapolis on Tuesday, and Geathers had all of a week’s
head start on him. They combined for just three tackles and were part of a
run defense that limited the Browns to just 55 yards on 17 carries.
“They stepped up and played good for us, hammering it up in there,” Arians
said. “Especially LG, he came in Tuesday and I thought he played really
well from what I saw on the sideline. I can’t wait to watch it on tape.
And the big fellow (Geathers) stepped in there and plugged his gap pretty
“You can’t say enough about young guys coming in off the street, getting
an opportunity and being a part of a big win. Hopefully, we can get some
guys healthy and make some tough decisions. Because we do have some depth
now that we’ve gone through this injury rash, and I think we came out (of
Sunday’s game) fairly clean.”
The Colts were without defensive ends Cory Redding and Fili Moala, injured
in last week’s 35-9 loss at the New York Jets, and outside linebacker
Robert Mathis missed his second straight game.
Their loss was felt most in the passing game.
Indianapolis couldn’t generate a pass rush and allowed Cleveland rookie
Brandon Weeden to complete 25 of 41 passes for 264 yards and two
touchdowns. But the Browns didn’t get the production they’d expected from
the run game.
Rookie Trent Richardson gained just eight yards on eight carries and sat
out the second half for the second straight week with a rib injury.
Montario Hardesty was Cleveland’s leading rusher with 28 yards on seven
It was a stark turnaround for an Indianapolis defense that allowed 227
rushing yards against the Jets last week.
“They had one extra guy in there (the box) all the time,” Browns head
coach Pat Shurmur said. “That wasn’t necessarily the case last week for
them. That’s why when you go into games, games are played differently
depending on who your opponent is, and so then you start to throw the ball
and then you loosen them up and the runs become effective again.”
The Colts’ runs were as effective as they’ve been all season.
Indianapolis rotated rookie Vick Ballard and second-year back Delone
Carter for much of the contest. Ballard gained a game-high 84 yards on 20
carries, and Carter added 41 yards on 11 attempts in his most extensive
action of the season.
The Colts failed in a couple of key short-yardage situations in the fourth
quarter, but the success in the running game helped the team overcome an
off day for Luck.
The rookie quarterback completed just 16 of 29 passes for 186 yards. But
he did account for both Indianapolis touchdowns, scoring on runs of 3 and
5 yards as the Colts built a 14-6 halftime lead.
“It was great to see the guys up front working real hard,” Luck said.
“They’ve worked hard the whole year. It’s nice to see the backs busting
those runs, and we got some good momentum from that.”
Cleveland scored on a 14-yard pass from Weeden to Greg Little early in the
second quarter, but holder Reggie Hodges couldn’t get the snap down and
the extra point never got off.
Weeden then hit fellow rookie Josh Gordon for a 33-yard score early in the
third quarter. Gordon had a chance to give the Browns the lead with 6:45
remaining in the fourth, but he dropped a pass in the end zone.
“The ball hit my hands, and I dropped it,” Gordon said. “Big-time players
make big-time plays. It just didn’t happen. In a big-time moment like
that, you could definitely blame the loss on me.”
Gordon’s drop came after Adam Vinatieri gave the Colts some breathing room
with a 58-yard field goal and Luck lost a fumble after a sack on the
But the Indianapolis defense stopped the Browns twice in the final 7:25
and delivered the victory.
“It’s huge,” said wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who continued the best start
of his career with six catches for 73 yards. “It’s a big, old cluster of
(AFC) teams that seem like they are around the same, 3-3, 4-3, whatever.
That just puts us right in the hunt. So now we just have to keep on
pushing forward and don’t look back.”