- The Colts are in a three-way tie atop the AFC South after their Monday night blowout of the Jets, but with a healthy Andrew Luck at the helm, they look like they'll be standing alone on top before long.
With four weeks to go, the AFC South is a three-team dead heat, and only one of those teams has a fully operational Andrew Luck.
Back from a concussion that sidelined him for the Colts’ Thanksgiving night loss to Pittsburgh, Luck strafed the Jets for 278 yards and four touchdowns in a 41–10 Monday night rout that pulled Indianapolis level with the Texans and Titans at 6–6 in the South. It is all but assured that only the champion of that division will play past New Year’s Day, and in the wake of the Texans’ uninspiring loss in Green Bay on Sunday, the division has a new, familiar front-runner.
All three teams play the Jaguars once in the final three weeks, but the rest of the schedule indicates that whichever team emerges from this division down the stretch will have earned it. The Texans face road games in Indianapolis (Week 14) and Tennessee (Week 17) if they want to repeat as division champs. The Titans host the Broncos next week and travel to Kansas City the week after that. And road trips to Minnesota and Oakland await the Colts after next Sunday’s pivotal game against Houston.
Luck threw three touchdowns to his trusted tight end Dwayne Allen on Monday night, but he could’ve thrown three to his other trusted tight end Jack Doyle, who fumbled through the end zone as he was reaching across the goal line late in the first half. Or to his favorite wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who abused Buster Skrine and Darrelle Revis all night and was consistently running wide open downfield. From the game’s opening drive, the Jets’ defense was barely going through the motions of coverage, and Luck picked it apart.
Allen was allowed to walk into the end zone unaccounted for on his first two touchdowns—his third score of the first half did require an excellent catch with linebacker Darron Lee bearing down on him. Hilton finished with nine catches for 146 yards and looked 100% after leaving last week’s game with a back injury.
“As long as we’re healthy, we can do a lot of things,” Hilton said.
It was the type of wide-open offense the Colts have unleashed most often this season while digging out from fourth-quarter holes created by their outmanned defense. Executed over 60 minutes, with all the key personnel intact, that attack is a scary proposition for the teams jockeying with Indianapolis for a playoff spot, and Luck makes it all run at peak efficiency.
“We have a lot of room to improve,” Luck said. “I think we’re doing a lot of things better, still have to improve. Winning is obviously the ultimate metric in this sport, and we’ve gotta keep doing that.”
Even the Colts’ pass-heavy clock-killing drives in the second half were a testament to Luck’s rhythm: He went 6 of 6 for 64 yards on an 11-play, 75 yard scoring drive that took up the first 6:06 of the second half.
The Jets’ season ended weeks ago, but their official elimination from playoff contention on Monday night was a spectacular one. Aside from the blown coverages, New York committed three personal fouls in the first 20 minutes, struggled to contain the Colts’ spotty run game and pulled Ryan Fitzpatrick for Bryce Petty in the second half to the delight of the remaining fans. The Colts’ beleaguered defense allowed a season-low point total and got a boost from the presence of top cornerback Vontae Davis, who has dealt with ankle and groin injuries in recent weeks.
“I thought they kicked our ass,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said in a terse postgame press conference. “It’s very troubling to get your ass kicked.”
It’s only slightly less troubling when the quarterback doing the kicking is one of the league’s best offensive generals, capable of putting a middling roster on his back when the race for the playoffs gets tight. If the AFC South’s teams are destined to go as far as their starting QBs take them, Indy is sitting pretty.
“Our top guys on this team, we know what we want,” said Frank Gore, who passed Tony Dorsett for eighth on the all-time rushing list in the second half. “Just follow us.”