Jacksonville at Colts
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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By late Sunday night, the Indianapolis Colts' 2013 regular season will be irrelevant. We'll be moving on and talking about the playoff matchup and the potential road to the Super Bowl.
So before the Colts play the Jaguars at 1 p.m. Sunday in the regular-season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium, let's take one last look at 2013:
Most Valuable Player: Robert Mathis set a tone this season by turning in his best season so late in his career. He was able to spearhead a defense that soared at times, stumbled badly at others, but ultimately came up with enough plays to make a difference. Opposing quarterbacks always play with the specter of Mathis in the back of their minds. Mathis broke Dwight Freeney's team records for sacks in a season and a career. Honorable mention: Andrew Luck for his many comebacks and Reggie Wayne for being irreplaceable.
Offensive player of the year: Luck has been solid in his sophomore season while improving his completion percentage (despite way too many drops by his receivers) and cutting down on the fumbles and interceptions. His personality has emerged as a QB who cares nothing about statistics and everything about winning. After Wayne was injured, he stepped up as the solo leader of the offense. It's working. Quarterbacks don't win games solo, but Luck's team beat the teams with Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning.
Defensive player of the year: Jerrell Freeman continues to amaze with his ability to play at a high speed and to make big plays at the right times. Freeman has been dominant the last two games, which is indicative not only of his drive but of his conditioning. When you've been dishing out as many hits as Freeman, and you're stronger in Week 15 than Week 2, you're something special. Honorable mention: Darius Butler. He has a nose for the ball.
Best play of the season: Mathis again, with his sack/strip of Manning in Manning's return to Indianapolis with the Denver Broncos. The “He got me” look on Manning's face as he watched the video replay on the big screen was priceless. That play allowed Colts fans to settle their loyalties moving forward (but they still love Peyton).
Best win: This is a tough call, given the Colts' wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos and the Chiefs. I'm going with the 27-7 win over the 49ers because it was on the road, the Colts were huge underdogs and it featured a dominant team effort. It was so long ago, Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown. Trent Richardson scored a touchdown on his first carry with the Colts. Mathis, Cory Redding and Freeman all recorded sacks.
Worst loss: If you tilt your head the right way, you can still catch a whiff of the stench of the Colts' 38-8 home loss to the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 10. They were putrid in all phases of the game and helped Tavon Austin (two long TD catches and a 98-yard punt return touchdowns) to have the game of his life. Colts coach Chuck Pagano said his team wasn't prepared. That was embarrassing on several levels.
Biggest surprise: Donald Brown was slated to be the No.3 running back behind Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. Then they got hurt and the Colts acquired Trent Richardson, so Brown was No.2 again. Funny thing happened: Performance mattered. Brown has played at a high level all season to the point where even the coaches who were protecting the investment in Richardson couldn't ignore it any longer. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Brown with free agency on the horizon.
Biggest disappointment: This has to be Richardson if only because the bar was set so high. When the Colts made the stunning trade of a first-round 2014 pick for Richardson, many thought it was the bold move of acquiring a superstar. That hasn't panned out as Richardson has yet to be more than an adequate running back. Darrius Heyward-Bey has been a disappointment, too, but the expectations weren't nearly as high.
Best coaching move: The decision to give some more playing time to former Army standout Josh McNary. There's no hungrier player in the NFL and McNary has shown he can make plays. He has earned more playing time at linebacker late in the season and shows some speed and power.
Worst coaching move: Chuck Pagano deciding to punt twice in key situations in the 19-9 loss at San Diego on Oct. 14. Pagano gave up the ball on 4th-and-3 at the San Diego 40 and later punted from the Colts' territory when they desperately needed a big play to get back in the game. Playing not-to-lose was not a great strategy. Honorable mention: Pep Hamilton's "run-first" offensive philosophy.
Best fan moment: Manning saluting the Colts fans before the game to a thunderous ovation. It was the best of both worlds: Colts fans showed their love for Manning, and then cheered the Colts on to a win.