Oft-criticized Colts star in first win of season

Arthur Arkush
Pro Football Weekly
Oft-criticized Colts star in first win of season

Powered by an inspired defense and surprisingly explosive ground game, the Colts on Sunday finally got in the "W" column for the first time this season while also playing spoiler to the playoff-hopeful Titans.

The Indy "D," which had generated only 12 takeaways all season, came up with three against the Titans, all coming at critical junctures.

The Colts' rushing attack had its most prolific performance since 2007, piling up 205 yards on 30 carries.

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It is hard to sugarcoat a 1-13 record, but it is hard not to feel good for a club that has fought all season with nothing to show for it. Two individual players, in particular, who have taken endless criticism — CB Jacob Lacey for a terrible season and RB Donald Brown for not living up to his first-round selection — played pivotal roles in helping the Colts avoid becoming the second 0-16 team in NFL history.

Lacey was so bad earlier in the season that he was deactivated for the first Colts-Titans meeting. When he was forced back into the starting lineup in Week 13 after season-ending injuries to Jerraud Powers and Terrence Johnson, many expected to see the same Lacey, burned repeatedly in coverage and making frequent mental mistakes. But to his credit, Lacey's confidence has returned and he played, by far, his best game of the season against the Titans, recording 12 tackles, two passes defensed and a pick-six halfway through the third quarter that gave the Colts a 17-6 lead.

Following a Dan Orlovsky-Reggie Wayne TD connection on their first possession of the second half, the Colts regained a four-point lead on the Titans. Tennessee, after taking the ensuing kickoff, was promptly stuffed on two Chris Johnson runs that backed the Titans up to their own 14-yard line and set up 3rd-and-long. Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck found Nate Washington on a nine-yard gain, which would have forced a punt if it wasn't for an illegal-contact penalty on Colts CB Kevin Thomas. With a fresh set of downs, Hasselbeck moved the chains on two short throws and perhaps was getting in his first real rhythm of the afternoon. At the Titans' 29, he tossed a short pass to his right for RB Chris Johnson, split out wide. Lacey aggressively jumped the route, breaking in front of Johnson and coasting 32 yards the other direction for the score that gave Indianapolis an 11-point cushion.

Brown's first two seasons in the league since being selected 31st overall in the '09 draft were lackluster. He was too often nicked up and spent too much time dancing behind the line when he was healthy. Easily lost in the Colts' embarrassingly bad first 14 weeks of the season was that Brown finally was starting to emerge. He is gaining 5.1 yards per carry, in addition to making great strides as a blocker.

But Sunday's performance as Brown's true coming-out party (sure, he played well in a huge Week 15 win over the Jaguars last season, but he carried the ball only nine times in the final two games and was deactivated for the postseason game). His 161 rushing yards, including an 80-yard TD, on Sunday on only 16 carries was by far the best day of his career and one of the best performances by a Colts back in franchise history.

Brown's 80-yard scoring burst could not have come at a more critical time, as it occurred late in the fourth quarter, merely 17 seconds after the Titans trimmed the Colts' lead to seven points. Brown took the designed running play to the right, but Titans rookie SLB Akeem Ayers got great penetration in the backfield and a hand on Brown before the back broke free and reversed field. Picking up a couple blocks from QB Dan Orlovsky and WR Reggie Wayne, Brown turned on the burners and galloped 80 yards down the left sideline for the dagger.

Plenty of other Colts deserve praise for the victory. LBs Pat Angerer and Ernie Sims, as well as the entire D-line, played outstanding, and Wayne beautifully shielded Titans FS Michael Griffin on Orlovsky's slightly underthrown TD pass. But it was the performances of Lacey and Brown, two guys who have spent much of their young careers in the doghouse, that stood out most in the Colts' first win of 2011.