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Colts appear on the verge of rising above average

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, left, celebrates a touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief in the Colts' 41-20 win over the New York Jets on Monday night. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, left, celebrates a touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief in the Colts' 41-20 win over the New York Jets on Monday night. (Photo by the Associated Press)

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Andrew Luck's strong play a necessity down homestretch.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016 9:57 AM

The Indianapolis Colts are 6-6. They’re 3-3 at home, 3-3 on the road and 2-2 within the AFC South. They’ve scored 311 points and they’ve given up 311 points.

Next up: Above average. After that, the playoffs. Right?

It’s a definite maybe.

After 12 games, it’s time for a true restart for the Colts. Their 41-20 win over the New York Jets on Monday night in East Rutherford, N.J. put them in a tie for first place (or next to last, depending on perspective) with the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.

The Colts host the Texans this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, and a convincing win will do wonders for where the Colts go from here.

Given the up-and-down nature of the Colts, nothing is guaranteed. Except for Monday night’s romp, even the wins have been struggles this season. But in the AFC South, the team that gets hot down the stretch will earn the division’s playoff berth.

“Winning is still the ultimate metric in this game,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said.

You have to love a quarterback who talks like that. You have to love even more a quarterback who throws like Luck did against the Jets. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns in a little over three quarters.

I’m not alone in believing the Colts go as far as Luck takes them. He’s the game-changer, week to week. When he plays well, they’ve got a chance. When he plays great, as he did Monday night, those chances are much, much higher.

Luck missed the Thanksgiving loss to the Steelers because of a concussion. His play upon his return was his finest of the season. He’s throwing the football more effortlessly than he has since his first three seasons. His third touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen was as masterful as it gets. His falling-backward, about to be sacked across-the-field loft to Donte Moncrief almost defied physical possibilities.

When Luck plays like that, everyone on the team gets a lift, even on the defensive side. True, the Jets seemed marginally interested, but the Colts defense showed spark rarely sustained over the full course of a game.

“It created a little mojo, a little swagger in us,” Colts safety Mike Adams said of the defense’s performance. “What we don’t want to do next week is regress.”

Adams is about as astute an analyst as you’ll find in the Colts locker room. He understands how teams work. He understands how this season’s Colts have worked. They alternate looking great with looking lost, sometimes in the same game, sometimes in the same series.

So the question becomes whether with this reset, and a division title there for the taking, the Colts finally show some consistent strong play.

The last month, minus the Steelers game with Scott Tolzien at quarterback and receivers displaying hands of stone, the Colts have looked like an above-average team. That seems like weak praise, I know. Still, a team has to play above-average ball before it can rise to the next level.

The Colts are making progress, which couldn’t be said earlier this season.

“By no means was (Monday’s win) perfect, but we managed to come out with some more positive plays and limit the negative ones,” Luck said. “It’s good to see some points up on the board. What a great team effort.”

The Colts would win the division by sweeping their remaining games, since that would guarantee one more win than Houston and they have beaten the Titans twice this season.

A sweep would require the Colts to win road games at Minnesota and Oakland. The Colts' longest winning “streak” this season is two games. So they're going to have to significantly improve over the final fourth of the season.

Signs are encouraging. The path to becoming above average is there for the taking. The Colts' chances are much better if Luck’s Monday night play becomes a homestretch habit.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1

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