GRADING THE BILLS
Running game: A-
C.J. Spiller had 107 yards, but his stats should have been even bigger. With 11 minutes left in the second quarter, he had eight carries for 51 yards. He went into the locker room with the same numbers because Chan Gailey didn’t give him a touch on three of their four second-quarter possessions. Yes, this will impact the coaching grade. Fred Jackson had six carries for 16 yards.
Passing game: D-
There were sacks. There were drops. Ryan Fitzpatrick was undistinguished. He barely completed half his passes and had to get hot in the fourth quarter to do so. He had eight completions entering the fourth quarter. Then he completed eight in a row before tossing an interception at the Colts’ 24. Spiller and Jackson, so productive on screen plays all season, finished with two catches for 4 yards.
Run defense: B
Indy has an average rushing attack, but Buffalo did a fine job for the most part. The Colt with the highest average was quarterback Andrew Luck at 3.3 yards. The Bills limited rookie Vick Ballard to 41 yards on 13 carries and Donald Brown to 26 yards on 10 carries. But the Colts seemed to get a nice run in a couple of critical spots, including an 11-yard Brown run from his own 5-yard line with 3:17 to play.
Pass defense: C
The line was great at times. The secondary struggled. Mario Williams notched three sacks. Marcell Dareus threw Luck to the turf like a stuffed animal. Kyle Williams pressured Luck into a bad throw that Justin Rogers intercepted. Rogers also had an interference penalty that helped Indy tack on a field goal before halftime. Stephon Gilmore’s late interference on third down let Indy kneel out the clock.
Special teams: D+
For the second straight game, Buffalo gave up a return touchdown. T.Y. Hilton returned Shawn Powell’s first punt 75 yards for the only touchdown of the first half. Powell had a terrific afternoon. He averaged 44.9 yards and pinned Indy at the 5-yard line in the dying minutes of the game. Buffalo’s kickoff coverage unit started Indy drives at the 16, 20, 8 and 24.
Gailey still can’t seem to figure out how to maximize two star-quality running backs. He badly mismanaged his time at the end of the first half and cost Buffalo three points. Backed up on the 8-yard line, his play-calling failed to gain a first down or force Indy to burn its timeouts. Gailey also declined to try a 52-yard field goal in a dome about four minutes into the second quarter, choosing instead to punt from Indy’s 34-yard line.
GRADING THE COLTS
Running game: C-
The Colts were OK here. Functional, but certainly nothing spectacular. They rushed for only 87 yards against a run defense that has yielded a bumper crop of big days for running backs across the league. All of the Colts’ 10 longest plays were passes. Brown and Ballard each had an 11-yard run. No big whoop.
Passing game: C
Luck didn’t look like a future Hall of Famer, but he showed why he deserved to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft. The rookie showed the poise of a franchise quarterback in commanding an offense that converted 50 percent of its third downs, including a 25-yard pass to Reggie Wayne on third and 17 to set up the Colts’ lone offensive touchdown.
Run defense: C
This was considered a weakness entering the game. The Colts ranked 29th and were allowing 4.7 yards a carry. Spiller had a juicy 7.6-yard average, but that was buoyed by runs of 23 and 41 yards. The Colts otherwise didn’t get stung on the ground. The Bills recorded only five rushing first downs. Jackson ran six times for 16 yards.
Pass defense: B+
Indy didn’t have top cornerback Vontae Davis, but still handled Buffalo with the exception of a play here or there. Johnson got behind Darius Butler on his career-long 63-yard catch and run, but Buffalo generally sputtered because of Indy’s dynamic pass rush. Linebackers Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman each had a sack. The Colts recorded five quarterback hits and seven pass breakups.
Special teams: A
In addition to Hilton’s touchdown return, the Colts were strong on coverage. Special teams were a concern but the Colts contained Bills return man Leodis McKelvin. The Colts ranked 30th on punt returns, but McKelvin returned two of Pat McAfee’s four punts for 24 yards. The Colts ranked 23rd on kick coverage, but got three touchbacks on their four kickoffs.
The Colts got production in every phase of the game. They weren’t lights out offensively, but interim coach Bruce Arians seemed to dial up the right play when the Colts needed one. They managed the clock well at the end of the first half, capitalizing on the Bills’ inability to pick up a first down by kicking a field goal. The Colts eliminated the Bills’ dangerous screen-passing game.