By TOM JAMES Terre Haute Tribune-Star
---- — INDIANAPOLIS - Finish the regular season strong. That’s what the Indianapolis Colts wanted to accomplish Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Behind the record-setting performances of Adam Vinatieri, Robert Mathis, Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis did exactly that in a 30-10 statement win over AFC South rival Jacksonville.
In doing so, the Colts now head into the wild-card round of the playoffs with an 11-5 overall record and a perfect 6-0 division mark. It’s the second straight year that Indianapolis has posted an 11-5 record and earned a wild-card post-season appearance.
The Colts went undefeated in the AFC South for the first time since the 2009 season, which was also the last time that the franchise earned a trip to the Super Bowl.
With the win, Indianapolis went 4-1 for the month of December and ended the regular season with three straight victories. Now it looks to be a home-field rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs either Saturday or Sunday. The Colts posted a 23-7 win at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 22.
“Proud of the guys for coming out and putting the time in and preparing for [Sunday’s] football game. To win 11 games and sweep the division. They always talk about December being the second most important month in football. We talked about that early on. This team went out went went 4-1 in December,” head coach Chuck Pagano said afterward.
“We faced a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, all that stuff. We never used it as an excuse. It’s next man up. There’s a lot of guys that got a lot of playing time. Very, very proud of the coaches and the players for the job that they’ve done. Now we’re headed into the post-season.”
Indianapolis scored early and often against the Jaguars, leading 20-3 at halftime. Touchdown runs by Donald Brown (1-yard) and Trent Richardson (2-yards), along with a pair of Vinatieri field goals from 23 and 26 yards, accounted for the Colts’ first-half scoring.
Jacksonville was limited to a 37-yard field goal by Josh Scobee with 11:55 remaining in the second quarter.
Luck completed 26-of-37 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown before giving way to backup Matt Hasselbeck early in the fourth quarter. Hasselbeck performed mop up duty the rest of the way.
Hilton had a monster day as he caught 11 passes for 155 yards, both single-game career bests. The second-year wide receiver ends the regular-season with a team-high 82 catches for 1,083 yards and five TDs. He is the first Colts receiver to go over 1,000 yards receiving in season -- other than Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne -- since Brandon Stokley in 2004.
Vinatieri’s three field goals and three extra-points gave him a team-leading 139 points this season and pushed his career total to 2,006. He is the seventh player in National Football League history to score more than 2,000 points.
Luck set a league-mark for the most passing yards (8,196) by a quarterback in the first two years of his career during the Super Bowl era. He also registered his 22nd career victory, moving past former Miami quarterback Dan Marino for the most wins over the first two years of a NFL career.
As for Mathis, the Colts outside linebacker was credited with two sacks against Jacksonville. He finished the regular season with a career-best and franchise-record 19.5 sacks overall. Indianapolis’ lone Pro Bowl selection now has 110 career sacks.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman also had a sack along with eight total tackles, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries, two passes broken up and a forced fumble. Freeman was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week for his performance against Kansas City (seven tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and two passes broken up).
Safety Antoine Bethea also registered his second interception of the season.
“Extremely proud of all of them, the coaches and the players. We took this thing over a couple years ago. They had left us for dead. 2-14 [in 2011]. Rookie [general manager], rookie [head] coach, rookie quarterback. We can go on and on,” Pagano voiced.
“All we did as a group of players and coaches was make a decision that we weren’t going to live in circumstances. We were going to live in vision. We were going to go to work. Again, hats off to the players and coaches. Got the best owner in the National Football League. He gives us everything we need to be successful. [General manager] Ryan [Grigson] and his crew do an unbelievable job of getting us players. But it’s the guys. It’s their resiliency. They don’t read the clippings, good or bad, listen to talk radio and all that stuff. And everybody telling them what they can’t do. We always talk about faith is believing in something that you can’t see and the reward is if you believe in it long enough, you’ll probably get to see it. Our journey continues and we’re very excited to be in the playoffs.”