Published October 22, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS – On the day Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano was released from the hospital, the Colts started playing his brand of football.
They ran the ball effectively, controlled the clock, stopped Cleveland cold and walked away with a 17-13 victory. It doesn't get better than that.
"(Interim coach) Bruce (Arians) said instead of passing the ball on third down, we were going to run it on third down this week," rookie running back Vick Ballard said. "We went with the run this week, and it turned out nice for us."
Pagano couldn't have come up with a more perfect script had he done it himself.
The Colts' head coach has missed the last three games after being diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He had been hospitalized since Sept. 26 so he could undergo treatment, but Sunday morning, the doctors gave him some surprising news — allowing him to head home where he is expected to stay for the duration of the treatment.
Pagano watched the game on television from home, and Arians intimated he could almost hear the cheers coming from the Pagano home.
There was plenty to celebrate.
Indy's third home win in four tries this season surpassed last season's win total. They reached .500 for the third time this season and the second since Arians was promoted to interim coach. And for the first time this season, Andrew Luck didn't need to engineer a last-minute scoring drive to win.
Heck, he barely needed his strong arm in the season's first head-to-head matchup between starting quarterbacks. Luck scored on touchdown runs of 3 and 5 yards in the first half, becoming the first Colts' quarterback to achieve that feat since Ricky Turner on Dec. 4, 1988 against Miami. The only other player on the Colts' short list is Bert Jones, who ran for two scores on Oct. 20, 1974 against the Jets.
But it fit with the plan as Indy (3-3) finished with a season-high 148 yards rushing.
"It's nice to see a little pound, some first downs, two runs in a row and three runs in a row and get those first downs," Luck said. "It makes life a little easier as a quarterback."
If Brandon Weeden didn't' understand before, he certainly does now.
While Luck finished 16 of 29 for 186 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, Weeden, the Browns rookie, went 25 of 41 for 264 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
The problem: He didn't get enough help.
Punter Reggie Hodges dropped the ball on an extra-point attempt, the defense struggled to stop Indy at critical moments and Josh Gordon dropped a sure touchdown that would have given the Browns the lead with 6:38 to go.
Plus, the Browns (1-6) managed only 55 yards rushing, a season-best for the Colts defense.
Running back Trent Richardson gamely attempted to play through a rib injury, but after carrying eight times for 8 yards in the first half, coach Pat Shurmur kept Richardson on the bench in the second half.
"He just, in my opinion, the way the game was going, wasn't quite effective," Shurmur said. "I don't think the injury there contributed, so no he didn't re-injure it."
Richardson's absence didn't help matters.
Weeden waited impatiently through the first half as Luck took the Colts on two time-consuming drives, the first ending with his 3-yard run, the second with a 5-yard score on a roll out to the right.
The Browns countered with one of Weeden's TD passes, Greg Little's juggling 14-yard catch in the back of the end zone that stood up to a replay review. But the botched extra point made it 14-6 at the half.
Weeden started quickly in the second half, throwing a 33-yard TD pass to Gordon to make it 14-13.
Luck came right back, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 38-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
"I would say it was frustrating for some odd reasons," Weeden said. "I mean we really only touched in the first half twice. ... Both of us put together really long, good drives and it was a possession game, so that was the weirdest thing."
Cleveland still had its chances.
Sheldon Brown recovered Luck's fumble at the 50, and three plays later, Weeden appeared to drop the ball right into Gordon's hands for a TD. The drop forced a punt that made Cleveland fans and new owner Jimmy Haslam cringe.
"I just couldn't bring it in, and I dropped it," he said. "The ball hit my hands and I dropped it. Big-time players make big-time plays. It just didn't happen. In a big-time moment like that, you could definitely blame the loss on me."
After the Browns' defense forced another stop, Weeden drove the Browns to the Indy 39 but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Cleveland got one more play, needing 80 yards with 1 second left to win it, but after five laterals and a fumble, Josh Cribbs was forced out of bounds, and the Colts were celebrating.
"I'm thrilled to hear about that," Luck said of Pagano. "I'm more thrilled about that than the win."
NOTES: Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin left with a calf injury during the first half and didn't return. Brown hurt his left ankle and left briefly. ... Cleveland has lost 11 straight road games. The Browns haven't won two consecutive against the Colts since 1988. ... Reggie Wayne caught six passes for 73 yards, and Ballard ran 20 times for 84 yards for the Colts. ... Colts right tackle Winston Justice left in the second half with an ankle injury.
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