BY TOM JAMES
Behind a workmanlike performance on both sides of the ball, the Indianapolis Colts posted an impressive 27-6 preseason win over the Cleveland Browns on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indianapolis, 2-1, will close out the preseason schedule on Thursday night at Cincinnati.
“Pleased with the outcome. Pleased with the way this team prepared and the way they played [Saturday] evening,” Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano said afterward. “We said that we wanted to start fast and we did that on both sides of the ball and special teams.
“The defense was outstanding. I felt like our first unit, in particular, shut them down in the first half. They did a tremendous job.”
The Colts took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Place-kicker Adam Vinatieri’s 32-yard field goal midway through the first quarter and a 3-yard swing pass from quarterback Andrew Luck to fullback Stanley Havili accounted for all of the home team’s first-half scoring.
Luck played into the third quarter before giving way to primary backup Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts’ starting signal-caller was sharp for most of the first half, completing 14-of-23 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Colts’ wide receiver Reggie Wayne had seven receptions for 79 yards over the first two quarters.
The Colts’ defense limited Cleveland 104 total yards and four first downs in the first half. The Browns punted four times and coughed up the ball once after cornerback Greg Toler forced and then recovered a fumble.
A late offensive possession by Indianapolis in the second quarter came to an abrupt end when Luck’s pass went off the fingers of Havili and was intercepted.
“[The Indianapolis first-team defense did] a great job,” Pagano said. “We gave up a few plays here and there. But we played pretty consistently.”
Cleveland ended the night with 13 first downs, 270 yards in offense and coughed up the football twice. After allowing 44 points in their first pre-season game in a loss to Buffalo, the Colts have not given up a touchdown in their last eight quarters.
“Anytime you keep somebody out of the end zone and force them to kick field goals, it was a heck of an effort on defense and hat’s off to all those players. There were some spectacular individual performances and great job by the coaches,” the Indianapolis coach praised.
Pagano also came away relatively pleased with the Colts’ first-line offense. Indianapolis had 15 first downs and 203 yards in total offense in the first half. Overall, the Colts had 26 first downs and 364 total yards.
“Guys were making plays. It was a little disappointing before the half. We had a two-minute drill and we had a chance to get more points. But overall it was a good performance,” he said.
Good, but still with some work to do before the regular season gets under way against Oakland on Sunday, Sept. 8.
“We moved the ball well, but we left some points out there,” Pagano said. “We wanted to really execute the two-minute drill before the half. I didn’t do a very good job of managing that whole situation. Giving them the ball back with 1:48 [left in the half]. But the defense was playing so good and got us out of that situation.”
Indianapolis pushed its lead to 17-0 on its first offensive possession of the third quarter, marching 47 yards in five plays. Luck connected with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 11:12 remaining in the quarter.
Luck left the game after the Colts’ first possession of the third quarter. He ended the night by completing 16-of-25 passes for 164 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also scrambled four times for an additional 20 yards.
The scoring drive was set up after a 38-yard punt return by backup cornerback Marshay Green. Green also nearly came up with an interception later in the quarter.
Cleveland’s Shayne Graham knocked through a 50-yard field goal with 7:16 left in the third quarter. Vinatieri countered with his second field goal of the night, this one from 25 yards out, late in the quarter.
Graham’s 44-yard field goal with 4:33 left in the game made it 20-6. But 11 seconds later, after the Browns recovered an onsides kick, reserve safety Larry Asante picked off a Brian Hoyer pass and returned it 48 yards to close out the Indianapolis scoring.
“We’ll be in early [this] morning and take a look at this [game] tape and evaluate it and see where we’re at,” Pagano voiced.
Outside linebacker Caesar Rayford, the Colts’ 27-year old rookie, recorded two more sacks. He has five total sacks during the preseason, with at least one sack in all three of Indianapolis’ exhibition games.
Rayford is a veteran of the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues.
Colts’ starting left offensive tackle Anthony Castanzo left the game early in the first quarter with a sprained right knee. He did not return. The Colts revealed after the game that Castonzo suffered a mild sprained medial collateral ligament and would be undergoing an MRI today
Colts’ wide receiver Nathan Palmer, meanwhile, also incurred a sprained knee in the fourth quarter. He did not return. Palmer also is scheduled to undergo an MRI.
Sitting out the game for the Colts were wide receiver Maurice Williams, wide receiver LaVon Brazill, cornerback Teddy Williams, safety Joe Lefeged, safety John Boyett, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, inside linebacker Josh McNary, inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, center Khaled Holmes, outside linebacker Lawrence Sidbury, offensive guard Mike McGlynn, tight end Coby Fleener, tight end Dwayne Allen and defensive end Fili Moala.