Without receiver Reggie Wayne, without last year's surprisingly good rookie running back Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, and without last year's surprisingly good rookie tight end Dwayne Allen -- all are out for the year with injuries -- the Colts offense might never be as good as Indianapolis once had hoped.
The team still has two first-round picks at running back, a striking second-year receiver and a second-round pick at tight end, but as the Colts have proven during the last three weeks, they're simply not as good without Wayne, Ballard and Allen. They'll probably win the AFC South, but it seems unlikely they'll make a run deep into the playoffs.
But as Indianapolis showed in its comeback 30-27 victory against the Titans on Thursday, the Colts also can play gritty enough to squeeze by and win a tough game on the road. Already, they have four second-half comeback wins this season. What that means for the rest of the 2013 season? Well, it probably won't get them a Super Bowl title.
For the third consecutive game, the Colts -- who now have a three-game lead in the AFC South ahead of the Titans -- were embarrassingly bad in the first half. In those past three games, for the record, Indianapolis has been outscored a combined 66-9 in the first 30 minutes.
But against the Texans in Week 9, they came back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win 27-24, and they overcame a 17-6 Titans intermission lead on Thursday.
Life, obviously, would be much easier if Indianapolis wasn't so lackadaisical in the first two quarters.
"That's something we have to work on and get corrected," Fleener told the NFL Network after the game.
Said Luck: "At the end of the day, winning is what matters. We were fortunate to survive our mistakes tonight and win against a good ballclub. But we know that has to be fixed."
Either way, on the Colts first series of the second half, they put together an 11-play, 74-yard touchdown drive to pull within four and were the beneficiaries of a Devon Wylie fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Indianapolis recovered the ball on the Tennessee 20, and two plays later, Luck was scrambling for an 11-yard touchdown. Just like that, Indianapolis had a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
But if you were looking for a reason to feel confident about Indianapolis, especially after the Rams destroyed the Colts 38-8 last week, the victory against the Titans probably didn't make you feel much better.
Yeah, the Colts got the win, but it came against a team that lost to the previously-winless Jaguars last week and who was playing without their franchise quarterback. In the end, I'm afraid that won't tell us much about Indianapolis.
But there are a few reasons to be somewhat optimistic on offense. T.Y. Hilton can be an extraordinary talent if he just plays a little more consistently and stops dropping so many catchable passes. Without Wayne, he'll continue to get the opportunity that he can become a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Neither Trent Richardson nor Donald Brown by themselves have been impressive in their careers, but together, they do just enough nice things to contribute. On Thursday, for example, Brown carried 80 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, while Richardson caught five passes out of the backfield.
And even without Allen in the lineup, tight end Coby Fleener has played well in the past few weeks, and on Thursday, he had the best game of his career, catching a career-high eight passes for career-best 108 yards.
Even with some of the deficiencies the Colts currently have on offense, you can't deny that they also have one of the best young talents in the league in Luck. He'll keep them in games they probably don't deserve to win. And make no mistake, this is also a team that already beat the Seahawks and the Broncos this season. It has talent. Just not as much as it did earlier in the year.
That won't transfer to many playoff wins, and I don't see them beating either the Seahawks or the Broncos again. But for this season, a division title is just going to have to be good enough.
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