Colts keep playoff hopes alive in best showing of 2016

The Indianapolis Colts kept their playoff hopes alive, bulldozing the Minnesota Vikings in a lopsided 34-6 victory. Here's what we learned in the Week 15 showdown:

  1. Good luck figuring out Chuck Pagano's dual-personality Colts squad. The one consistent this season has been a tendency to exceed expectations when Andrew Luck is afforded adequate protection in the pocket. Playing behind his 35th different starting offensive line combination in 68 career regular-season games, Luck picked the Vikings' ferocious front seven apart in Indianapolis' finest all-around effort of 2016. Luck worked the soft underbelly of Minnesota's defense, moving the chains with his running backs and tight ends while dominating time of possession. He led first-half touchdown drives of 91 and 92 yards and dealt the final blow with a 50-yard scoring strike to Phillip Dorsett early in the fourth quarter.
  1. Adrian Peterson's long-awaited return was anticlimactic. Sporting a brace on his surgically repaired knee, the seven-time Pro Bowler managed just 22 yards on six carries, losing a red-zone fumble at the tail end of his longest run (13 yards). Although Peterson functioned as the primary early-down back until the game was out of hand, he never had a chance to reach second gear behind Minnesota's anemic offensive line. Vikings fans hoping for a savior in problematic short-yardage situations didn't get a chance to see Peterson in that role.

No one is suggesting Peterson is a competitive liability at this point in his career, but his skill set is ill-suited to the quick-passing attack installed by Pat Shurmur in a desperate midseason coverup for poor pass protection. Sam Bradford had no chance to establish a rhythm during a one-sided 27-0 first half in which the Vikings possessed the ball for just over six minutes.

  1. This was essentially a "loser goes home" clash between a pair of disappointing teams with fatal flaws. The optimist in Indianapolis will take comfort in the best performances of the season from the offensive line, ground attack and defense -- three areas widely viewed as liabilities entering Week 15. Traveling to Oakland before hosting Jacksonville to close out the season, the Colts remain one game behind the Titans and Texans after the two AFC South rivals pulled off stirring comebacks on Sunday. The Vikings fall to third place in their division and to the periphery of the NFC wild-card race.
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