Game recap: Colts 18, Dolphins 12

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 27, 2015) – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 18-12 win over the Miami Dolphins Sunday. It snapped their second three-game losing streak of the season:

Alive, barely:  The Colts did their part. Despite losing Matt Hasselbeck (again) and watching backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst finish the game with an apparent hamstring injury, they kept their fading playoff hopes alive by holding off a late Dolphins’ rally. But let’s be realistic, the postseason pulse is faint. We’re talking about the strength-of-victory tiebreaker should the Colts (7-8) and Houston Texans (8-7) finish in a tie atop the AFC South. And that tiebreaker favors Houston.

The Tennessee Titans did the Colts no favors by rolling over in Nashville and being rolled by Houston 34-6.

The Colts are eliminated Monday night if Cincinnati beats Denver.

Defense does it: With the offense limited by injuries at the most influential position – that would be quarterback – the defense stepped up and carried the day. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed for 329 yards, but was under constant siege. The Colts’ pass rush generated a season-best six sacks, and fittingly smothered the Dolphins’ late-game rally.

Miami earned a first-and-goal at the 5 with 40 seconds to play, but were turned away. On fourth-and-goal at the 5 with 27 seconds to play, Tannehill was smothered by Robert Mathis, Kendall Langford and T.Y. McGill.

That trio was credited for two sacks each.

McGill’s first career sack came on Miami’s first offensive possession and gave the Colts’ their first lead of the day. He used a looping stunt to the left and tackled Tannehill in the end zone for a safety.

The defense came up big on the Dolphins’ next possession when cornerback Vontae Davis intercepted a Tannehill pass in the end zone.

Gore-d: OK, the drought(s) continue. But let’s not kid ourselves. Frank Gore did everything humanly possible to carry the offensively-challenge Colts to a victory. He was responsible for the 15-6 halftime lead, rushing six times for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 37-yarder through the heart of the Miami defense gave the Colts an 8-0 first-quarter lead. His 11-yarder in the second quarter pushed the lead to 15-6.

With Hasselbeck out and Whitehurst directing a conservative attack, Miami crowded the line of scrimmage in the second half. That brought an end to Gore’s big day. He was limited to 13 yards on nine attempts in final two quarters.

So for the record, the Colts’ streaks of games without a 100-yard rusher reached 49 in the regular season and 54 overall. That’s the NFL’s longest active drought.

Also, Gore’s dry spell reached a career-long 15 games.

Down for the count?: It’s time the Colts ended Hasselbeck’s misery. The NFL’s oldest non-kicker – he’s 40, remember? – was knocked out a game for the fourth consecutive week. Hasselbeck grabbed his right shoulder after being driven to the ground by Miami tackle Jordan Phillips in the second quarter. He remained in the game for one play, but gave way to  Whitehurst.

For those who’ve lost track, Hasselbeck has started eight games, including six straight, while dealing with a serious intestinal disorder and back, shoulder, rib and jaw injuries. He’s persevered, but enough is enough.

Before going to the locker room for evaluation, Hasselbeck completed 8-of-15 passes for 99 yards.

Unless Andrew Luck is cleared by the team’s medical staff on his recovery from a lacerated kidney, Whitehurst starts the finale next Sunday against Tennessee.

This and that: Adam Vinatieri continues to reach milestones. His 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter was the 500th of his career. He joined Morten Andersen (565) and Gary Anderson (538) as the only members of the NFL’s 500 club. It also was Vinatieri’s 22th straight made field goal after an 0-2 start.

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