We began Sunday wondering what the Indianapolis Colts had left in the tank.
By the end of an 18-12 survival at Miami, the answer was, well, kind of an underwhelming “Just enough.”
The Colts had just enough of a pass rush to take down the Dolphins with a season-high six sacks. It was unmistakably ironic the final fourth-down play in the last minute at the Colts’ 5-yard line came down to Miami misfiring on the snap with four blockers not moving at the snap, enabling outside linebacker Robert Mathis to clean up with the game-clinching sack.
It’s ironic because pass protection has been the Colts’ No. 1 issue all season. That’s why they’re 7-8, squeaking out a tough road win over a 5-10 team clearly with more issues, and now hoping for the results of a half dozen games to maintain the slightest playoff pulse.
Almost instantly, of course, fans wanted to know the playoff scenario. It’s complicated, and only the most optimistic fans will give the Colts any chance. Sorry, but just being realistic.
For starters, if the Colts are going to be playing for anything in Week 17, they need the Denver Broncos to defeat the visiting Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. Yeah, if the Bungles win, that botches the Colts’ shot at a strength of victory tiebreaker over the Texans. Strength of victory is the combined winning percentage of opponents defeated.
Then the Colts need to win Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (2-13) at Lucas Oil Stadium. We don’t know who will play quarterback for the Colts — Andrew Luck hopes to be cleared, Matt Hasselbeck exited his fourth consecutive game Sunday (shoulder injury) and even Charlie Whitehurst was gimpy on a sore hammy at game’s end. But the Titans lost 34-6 at home to the Texans Sunday, so it’s doubtful Tennessee has much of anything left.
That said, the Texans can end the discussion by winning at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10), who lost by 11 at New Orleans and the week before at home to Atlanta. Don’t expect Houston to screw this up.
If the Texans do, then the Colts need seven other games to go their way to gain the tiebreaker edge. They include these same Dolphins at home beating New England, the Raiders knocking off the red-hot Chiefs and the Ravens would have to beat the Bengals. All three seem like a long shot at best.
So what do we say about the Colts winning Sunday? They escaped. They survived. They got by. They did what was needed.
But even after this team snapped its three-game losing streak, it’s hard for me to get too warm and fuzzy about what we’ve seen. The Dolphins were lousy. They have a worse offensive line than the Colts — didn’t think you’d see that this season, huh?
And yet it came down to a final four downs at the Colts’ 5-yard line. I don’t know about everyone else, but the situation seemed somewhat bleak, relying on the 28th-ranked defense to save the day.
That they did. Mathis had two sacks in this game. So did defensive end Kendall Langford and rookie defensive tackle T.Y. McGill, who got the scoring started with a sack of Ryan Tannehill for a safety.
It was great to see running back Frank Gore show he’s still got some burst in his 32-year-old legs as he ripped off a 37-yard TD run and another 11-yard scoring rush. He was well on his way to 100 yards with 72 in the first half, but the Dolphins clamped down on him in the second half and he finished with 85 — the home team wasn’t going to let Gore beat them when Whitehurst was playing quarterback.
So a game was saved, folks, a winnable game against an inferior opponent that didn’t have the snap count right on a final, fateful play.
A game was saved, but probably not a season or a playoff berth.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.