SAN FRANCISCO -- Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano's opening statement after his team’s 27-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers was about how the win could be one the Colts talk about five or six years from now.
Then Pagano backtracked.
“Maybe one of those wins that propel you to do great things,” he said.
The hype surrounding the Andrew Luck-Jim Harbaugh reunion took a backseat to the type of performance general manager Ryan Grigson envisioned when he put the team together during the offseason.
The Colts took the first step in removing the finesse label that has lingered since the Peyton Manning years of throwing the ball around the field to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. On Sunday, the Colts imposed their will, taking the physical 49ers out back for an old-school beating.
“If you want to go finesse, open it up with five wide [receivers], we can do that,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “You want to go smash-mouth football, we can do that. We have two backs that can get it done and an O-line that can open up gaping holes.”
The Colts’ victory sends a message to Manning and the Denver Broncos, who appear to be the odds-on favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
“All the good things we did today, we can keep building on so we can keep having performances like this,” defensive lineman Cory Redding said.
Indianapolis felt disrespected before it boarded its cross-country flight Saturday afternoon. The oddsmakers had the 49ers favored by 10 points, understandable with the Colts to play without six starters.
Pagano and his staff had to shuffle things around on the offensive line so the unit could open holes for the newly acquired Trent Richardson and for Ahmad Bradshaw and for for Luck to have time to pass.
The Colts had a rookie starting at left guard, the starting right guard slid to center and a player who opened the season third on the depth started started at right guard.
With all the shuffling, the Colts still rushed for 179 yards and Luck was sacked only once.
Luck’s passing ability has been well documented, but the Colts also need a running game to complement their franchise quarterback.
That's why offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Luck's coordinator at Stanford, has spent the entire season talking about establishing a power-running game.
The odds of having it all season became reality Friday, when Grigson acquired Richardson from Cleveland to go with Bradshaw.
Sunday was the first time the Colts had more rushing yards (179) than passing (157) since Dec. 18, 2011, against Tennessee.
Richardson and Bradshaw allow the Colts to chew up the clock and not put pressure on Luck to throw the ball 45 times a game like he had to last season.
The Colts clinched the game in the fourth quarter with an 11-play, 80-yard drive, including nine runs for 54 yards, using more than seven minutes of the clock.
After setting the 49ers up by pounding the ball with Bradshaw and Richardson during the drive, Hamilton called the perfect play with Luck faking a handoff to Bradshaw and rolling to his left for a 6-yard TD.
Grigson couldn’t control himself in the press box after Luck’s touchdown and spike. He pumped his fist, grabbed vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye and started shaking him by his shoulders in excitement.
“We’re pretty dangerous and it is hard to tell what is going to come at you,” Richardson said about teaming with Bradshaw. “It is kind of tough to know what is going to come at you.”
The long drives -- the Colts had the ball almost 13 minutes longer than the 49ers -- kept Indianapolis’ defense fresh, which in turn played a factor in them locking up San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option offense. Kaepernick had only 20 yards on seven carries.
Indianapolis held the 49ers to 254 yards, with 91 of those on San Francisco’s only scoring drive. The Colts forced two turnovers, including a strip by linebacker Jerrell Freeman deep in San Francisco territory.
“That was a heavyweight fight right there,” Pagano said. “That was a 15-round slugfest. That was exactly what we thought it was going to be. It’s what we prepared.”
It was also a beat-down by the Colts, the kind they believe will keep them moving forward this season.