5 takeaways from Colts’ win over Jaguars

The Indianapolis Colts played their best football of the season

in December.

They’re hoping to continue the trend into January – and

February.

After pulling off yet another double-digit victory Sunday, 30-10

over Jacksonville, the Colts are chugging into the playoffs fully

charged.

”Our momentum is sky high right now. We’re hot,” receiver T.Y.

Hilton said after catching 11 passes for 155 yards, both career

highs, and finishing with the first 1,000-yard season of his

career.

While other playoff teams stumbled along the way over the past

couple of weeks, the Colts (11-5) have been rolling. They’ve

outscored their last three opponents 78-20 and have given up just

two touchdowns in the last 12 quarters.

Yes, two of the wins came over two of the league’s worst teams,

Houston and the Jaguars, at home, but the third was at Kansas City,

which Indianapolis will face in a rematch Saturday afternoon. And

for the first time since the Peyton Manning era ended, the Colts

will be playing a postseason game at home, too.

What’s changed? Plenty.

For the first time since losing Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne

with a season-ending knee injury, the Colts are back in sync. Indy

has turned around a six-week stretch of alternating wins and losses

by finishing the season with three straight victories. That matches

Indy’s longest winning streak of the season.

And the timing couldn’t be better. Those who have faced the

Colts recently have seen a very different team than the one that

stumbled through November.

”First of all, that’s a very good team. We knew watching that

tape they execute in all three phases,” first-year Jags coach Gus

Bradley said. ”It was a great test for us. ”

But the Colts will be tested at the most meaningful time of the

NFL season.

Here are five more things to take away from Sunday’s game:

MOVING ON: When Wayne was injured, Andrew Luck struggled to find

a connection with his young receivers. That problem appears to have

been solved. Over the last three weeks, Luck has completed 66.98

percent of his passes, thrown for 703 yards, four TDs and just one

interception. He’s been sacked only three times despite playing

with a different starting offensive line all three weeks. All of

those numbers bode well for the playoffs.

CHANGING TIMES: Jacksonville center Brad Meester is retiring

after 14 seasons with the team. Now the Jags (4-12) must figure out

what else should change. Former rushing champ Maurice Jones-Drew

could become a free agent. And the Jags, who will draft in the top

10, also will have to decide what to do at quarterback. Despite

Sunday’s blowout, Blaine Gabbert did not play and Bradley said

there was only ”some thought” about pulling Chad Henne for

Gabbert.

CLEANING UP: How did Indy win the AFC South title? By staying

clean. On Sunday, the Colts had no turnovers and only two

penalties. It’s been a season-long trend for Indy, which finished

with the fewest turnovers (14) and fewest penalties (66) of any

team in the league. That’s almost always a winning combination in

the playoffs.

GROWING UP: Bradley does not view this as a lost season. After

starting with eight consecutive losses, the Jaguars won four of

their next five before losing the final three. During the second

half of the season, Bradley said he continued to see improvements

that Jacksonville needs to move forward. Bradley said the new

coaching staff’s culture is taking hold and players seemed more

unified now than early in the season.

DEFENSIVE SURGE: Indy’s defense is on a roll. It has given up

just 20 points and two touchdowns over the last three weeks – and

the one touchdown Sunday came with 16 seconds left in a blowout

win. Yes, the Colts have figured out how to get off the field on

third down, how to pressure quarterbacks with someone other than

Robert Mathis and how to force turnovers. The biggest question now

is whether the Colts will be healthy. Cory Redding and Ricky Jean

Francois both sat out Sunday. Cornerback Vontae Davis (groin),

defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and linebacker Bjoern

Werner (ankle) will all be evaluated after leaving Sunday’s

game.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org