The Colts made the right decision.
And that only has a little bit to do with Sunday night’s result.
The next generation of Colts quarterback beat the previous version, with Andrew Luck one-upping Peyton Manning for a 39-33 win.
Luck threw for three touchdowns and also showed a mobility which is often overlooked. He had an 11-yard scramble for a first down in the first half, and ran for a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
But of all the numbers associated with the second-year quarterback, the most important for the future of the Colts is simply $22.1 million, or the cost of his four-year rookie deal.
Having that kind of fiscally responsible quarterback contract, instead of an aging star coming off a serious injury at near that number per year, has enabled the Colts to keep a solid core around him. For all their owner’s poorly played bluster over the past week, that was the larger point which was too often lost in the emotion.
Moves such as hanging onto outside linebacker Robert Mathis were possible, in part, because they had a quarterback locked in at bargain rates. They were able to buy in bulk this offseason, adding parts such as LaRon Landry and Gosder Cherilus and Erik Walden and others with the remainder.
The economics of the deal made it a no-brainer, but Luck’s precocious play has made it easy for the Colts to move on.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. As good as Manning looked the first six weeks of the season, he started looking like a different guy in the second quarter.
There was something missing from his passes after the sack-strip which led to a safety. Former teammate Mathis drilled Manning in the back, and from that point forward, Manning’s passes lacked a certain zip.
Losing left tackle Ryan Clady to a season-ending foot injury is the kind of thing you can hide with Manning’s individual brilliance for a bit. But eventually, players such as Mathis are going to get to him, and Manning’s going to have to bounce back better next time.
Manning can be great without top-end arm strength, but even while leading a comeback, you could tell he was working around a physical limitation.
2. The alarming part of seeing Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leaving the field with a knee sprain in the fourth quarter, was realizing how durable he’s been.
Sunday was his 189th consecutive game, as he hasn’t missed a game since 2001.
The way he crumpled after a non-contact injury makes you immediately think the worst, along with his emotional reaction.
The Colts have a week off with a bye in front of them, but losing Wayne for any amount of time would dampen much of the enthusiasm in Indianapolis.
3. The Colts most valuable player in the first half wasn’t Luck, but fullback Stanley Havili.
He scored a touchdown, forced a fumble on special teams, and was the guy blocking cornerback Champ Bailey when the veteran corner was forced from the game after aggravating his foot injury.
Havili clearly wasn’t trying to hurt Bailey (it was a fairly standard-looking block, with no malicious intent). But while yanking the ball away from Trindon Holliday early, he showed linebacker-like instincts for the ball.
The Colts acquired him from the Eagles in March, in exchange for defensive end Clifton Geathers, a price which has been justified and then some.
4. Broncos linebacker Von Miller might be back, and might be bigger than ever.
But the Colts were willing to run straight at him, and early on, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.
The Colts came out running early, and that’s no accident. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, 39, calls an older man’s game.
But putting a hat on a hat and running straight at Miller kept him from being much of a factor early.
5. You know who’s old and still getting it done?
Who else, I mean.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
His 52-yarder in the fourth quarter was his ninth field goal from 50 yards or longer in the past three years. He hit 10 in his first 15 NFL seasons.
That kind of performance gives them the same kind of confidence Luck does.