INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Look out AFC, Indianapolis has its swagger back.
One week after frustration and anger permeated the Colts’ locker room, a looser, more confident bunch returned Monday with jokes, laughter and a much-needed sense of relief.
“I think we can travel with it,” defensive captain Gary Brackett said of the recovered bravado, drawing laughter. “I think we’ll check that bag and make sure it’s not left anywhere.”
It was a stark contrast from last week when Indy’s embarrassing 34-24 loss at Houston put the unthinkable in play – a possible 0-2 start for the first time since Peyton Manning’s rookie season, 1998.
Not a chance.
If Indy proved anything with Sunday’s 38-14 blowout against the Giants, it was this: The defending AFC champs can be as good as they ever have been.
The NFL’s worst running team last season ran for 160 yards on 43 carries against the Giants, the first time Indy has topped 40 rushing attempts since October 2007. Joseph Addai finished with 92 yards, his highest total since November 2008, and Manning was especially efficient, throwing for 255 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 145.5.
The offensive line, a big target following Indy’s season-opening loss, allowed only one sack, created big holes for Addai and Donald Brown and kept Manning upright most of the night against Pro Bowl defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
And Indy (1-1) executed its game plan to perfection.
“Our goal was to take advantage of how they were playing us,” left tackle Charlie Johnson said. “We thought we’d get a lot of nickel and dime packages from them, and we knew we’d have to run against that. And we wanted to play fast because we think we’re better when we do that.”
New York (1-1) spent the whole night playing catch-up, after falling into a 24-0 hole, and played right into the strengths of the Colts’ defense.
The big cushion allowed Pro Bowl ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to tee off on Manning’s brother, Eli, combining for four sacks and forced three Eli Manning fumbles.
Just like it’s drawn up.
“When our offense jumps up by two or three touchdowns, you know what time it is,” Mathis said. “It’s time to eat, and he (the quarterback) is the food.”
It was Indianapolis’ first victory since the AFC championship. The Colts lost the Super Bowl, all four preseason games and the opener in Houston before a week’s worth of sharp practices and a return to a simple philosophy for the beleaguered defense got them back on the right track.
“I think we had to get back to the basics,” cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. “It seemed like the guys were trying to do a little more than their own job in the first game. This week, everybody kind of said ‘Hold your ground and play smart, fast and physical.'”
It was so frustrating for the Giants that Brandon Jacobs even tossed his helmet, unintentionally, into the stands.
The Colts are hoping the balanced offense and opportunistic defense from Sunday night will be the norm from here on out as they try to become the first Super Bowl loser to make it back to the big game since Buffalo returned for the fourth straight time after the 1993 season.
Next up is Denver, a team Indy has beaten four straight times and that could be starting two rookie cornerbacks this weekend. Nine-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey left the stadium Sunday on crutches after hurting his right foot or ankle. Coach Josh McDaniels said Bailey doesn’t have any broken bones, he didn’t say how much time Bailey might miss.
The Colts aren’t worried about Denver’s potential problems, though.
Nope, they just want to keep improving – and demonstrating that the real Colts showed up in Week 2.
“You can call it a wake-up call or whatever, but the Houston Texans are good, too. They get paid, too, and they came out with a good game plan, just like we did last night,” defensive tackle Daniel Muir said. “You know, when you get punched in the face, that’s exactly what you’ve got go to do, fight back, and we got punched in the face.”
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