It’s old hat for some Indianapolis Colts veterans, but D’Qwell Jackson didn’t realize until recently that winning a division title means being awarded souvenirs.
Please understand, the inside linebacker spent the previous eight years in Cleveland. The NFL playoffs are an unknown in Northeast Ohio.
So when cornerback Vontae Davis jumped a fourth-down route and came away with an interception to close out a 17-10 Indianapolis Colts victory over Houston Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Jackson started thinking about his AFC South Division Champions hat.
He wore that black hat into the shower and was still wearing it when reporters approached. After everyone else walked away, Jackson shared how much this meant.
“I feel like I earned it, everybody earned it,” Jackson said. “I’ve waited long enough.”
He’s led the league in tackles. He’s been a heart-and-soul defensive leader, in Cleveland and now in Indianapolis. But this will be the ninth-year pro’s first January in the postseason.
“When you walk away from this game, you’re going to walk away with a ton of memories, a ton of relationships, the grind of waking up each week being sore and going out and laying it on the line for your brothers,’ Jackson said. “If you have a chance to walk away with a division title or anything of that sort, that’s something no one can ever take away from you. You can tell your kids’ kids.
“It’s hard to come by. I’m a prime example of that. … Up until two weeks ago, I didn’t know if you won the division you got a souvenir. I didn’t know that. And I wanted one of those.”
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois looked over at Jackson and said, “He will cherish that hat.”
The Colts’ clincher of a ninth AFC South crown in 13 years was a bit ugly. The champs posted season lows in points and total yards (278). And the offense gave the Texans’ their only touchdown on a first-quarter interception return.
The flip side is the Colts’ defense, led by Jackson’s game-high 10 tackles, allowed only one field goal.
Jackson was surprised when the Texans, on their last-gasp drive, tried to throw a fourth-and-3 pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was being covered by the Colts’ best defender in Davis.
The Colts cornerback had seen this route before and reacted quickly to pick off the pass.
“Oh, man, I knew that was ballgame,” Davis said. “I was just ready. I just played that play like it was the last play of my life. I knew I had a chance. No. 10 (Hopkins), he’s a good player. He’s having a great year. I knew it was a possibility. That’s what the NFL is about. You’ve got to step up. Big-time players make big-time plays.”
It goes without saying the Colts (10-4), who are in the postseason for the third consecutive year, have higher aspirations. But defeating the Texans (7-7), who have never won in Indy in 13 years, to clinch a second consecutive division title was goal No. 1.
Some of the Colts veterans don’t hope for this accomplishment. They expect it. That’s what a winning tradition breeds: confidence. The Colts have reached the playoffs in 14 of 16 years.
Jean Francois, who had a sack, celebrated his fourth division title, two with San Francisco and two with the Colts.
“I told them I didn’t care how the hat fit, as long as you get me one,” he said. “As long as it’s on my head, it says AFC South Champions and there’s a Colts symbol on it, I don’t care.”
Defensive end Cory Redding walked out of the locker room wearing his hat.
“One with Baltimore and two here,” Redding said of his hat collection. “It’s great to win the division. It’s great to be in the playoffs for my fifth straight year. For my first seven years, I never even sniffed the playoffs. God has been good to me, man. I’m just continuing to enjoy the ride and just continuing to have fun.”
Did Redding particularly enjoy this achievement more because the defense played so well?
“Any time we win, bro, I love it,” he said. “I don’t care how we get it done.”
Don’t mention style points or how the AFC South was won to him.
“I don’t care. It’s all about winning,” he said. “I’m a champion. We are a champion.”
Safety Sergio Brown wasn’t wearing his hat. It was in his locker. His flowing dreadlocks don’t work with the one-size-fits-all hat attire.
“My hats never fit because of my dreads,” he said. “But it fits as a trophy. It’s a special hat, but you can’t buy those in stores. Well, you probably can now. But it’s better if you earn them.”
What was Brown thinking when Davis intercepted that last pass?
“I hope my T-shirt fits,” Brown said with a laugh.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.