It’s quite possible, in an observation for any optimists among us, these Indianapolis Colts haven’t shown us their best game just yet.
Seriously, take a look at Thursday’s 33-28 thrill ride that became a stress test of a win at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
On a short week, the Colts absolutely obliterated the Texans in that first quarter. The 24-0 margin against a defense that had yet to allow a first-quarter point was a testament to both explosive offense and stingy defense.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What about the rest of the game?
Sure, the Colts cracked at times. That’s the NFL, especially on the road. Look around the league at what has happened to some teams.
Then look at what this team overcame.
Texans defensive stud J.J. Watt went off for his third TD of the season on a 45-yard fumble return, he sacked Andrew Luck twice, he had seven tackles including three for losses and swatted a couple of passes.
Yet the Colts still won.
Texans running back Arian Foster ran for 109 yards and two scores. Wide receiver Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 99 yards and a sick TD grab on a pass that just eluded the outstretched fingertips of cornerback Greg Toler. I mean, “Andre The Giant” shouldn’t have been able to see that one coming with Toler in front of him.
Yet the Colts still won.
The visitors turned the ball over twice as a Luck pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted. Then rookie center Jonotthan Harrison and Luck weren’t on the same page again — the quarterback was looking elsewhere when the snap came — and the next thing you know Watt is scooping and scoring.
Yet the Colts still won.
How is this possible? Aside from wide receiver T.Y. Hilton’s monster 223-yard receiving game, look at the other numbers that jump off the stat sheet.
Linebackers D’Qwell Jackson, Erik Walden, rookie Jonathan Newsome and Bjoern Werner as well as defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois celebrated sacks. The five sacks are a season high. Werner’s forced a fumble that Jackson recovered to seal the victory. Newsome’s was the first of his NFL career.
For the third consecutive game, a Colts opponent sputtered on third downs with only one — yeah, one — conversion. The Texans were 1-of-8 (13 percent). Baltimore was 1-of-11 (9 percent). Tennessee was 1-of-9 (11 percent).
Oh, and then there’s the offense. Luck was, well, Luck. He completed 25-of-44 passes for 370 yards and three TDs. His fourth consecutive 300-yard-plus game boosted league-leading totals in passing yards to 1,987 and TDs to 17. He’s tied Peyton Manning (2004) for the franchise record in most touchdown passes through the first six games of a season.
Keep in mind, Luck had 23 TD passes in each of his first two seasons. He’s on pace to surpass that in three more games. And his passer rating of 99.6 is well ahead of last season’s previous best of 87.0.
He completed scoring passes to three different targets as well as throws to seven different pass catchers. The Colts keep sharing the scores this season. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has five TDs, all on receptions, tight end Dwayne Allen has four and tight end Coby Fleener three. Luck has run for two TDs, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has caught a pair and running back Trent Richardson has run for a couple, too.
The Colts have generated more than 400 total yards in four consecutive games. Once again, they owned time of possession, 36:49 to 23:11.
And, lest anybody forget, how about Pat McAfee’s onside kick? “Boomstick” took care of this one all by himself, bouncing the ball 10 yards and falling on it for a huge first-quarter play. That enabled the Colts to take a 10-0 lead. It’s nothing short of amazing that the Colts have already recovered three onside kicks this season.
Of course, some will want to mention the flip side of the coin, stuff the Colts will say “needs to be cleaned up.” No argument that this team has been far from perfect in a lot of areas. The center situation is maddening. They can blame whomever they want, either Harrison or Luck or both, but four mistakes in two games since the rookie center was thrust into the starting role is alarming. And if the Colts would have lost this game, there would be more buzz about this.
Some will also bemoan how the Colts didn’t put the Texans away until late. The defense gave up chunks of yardage and several big plays after such a strong start.
But that’s just it. The Colts didn’t play a complete game. They didn’t the week before, either, when they defeated Baltimore at home.
This team hasn’t played its best. Not yet. But face it, even with all the head-scratching moments, the Colts have been pretty darned good to dig out of an 0-2 hole. They're sitting atop the AFC South after a first-round sweep of division opposition.
The offense is humming and a defense without Robert Mathis is generating consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and getting off the field on third downs.
If you’re not encouraged right now, perhaps you never will be.
Then again, if the Colts’ best is indeed still to come, just imagine what that could be.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.