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INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts took a giant step forward on Sunday afternoon in getting back to the playoffs.

In one of their finest performances of the season (and the best on offense), the Colts (9-4) bullied the Raiders (7-6) and then blew them out in the final two quarters, winning by a score of 44-27.

What was learned from the Colts clinching a winning season?

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

1. Philip Rivers Leads Finest Offensive Performance Of Season: This is playoff-level quarterback play from a team that knew it had to go find it this past offseason. Efficiency has more often than not been the word with Philip Rivers in 2020, and that was the case again on Sunday. Rivers went 19-of-28 for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those are nice numbers, sure. But look at what the entire offense did under Rivers’ guidance. The unit scored on 7 of its 8 (real) drives. And it achieved balance (212 rushing yards, 244 passing yards) that we haven’t seen all season. What Rivers currently lacks in his physical makeup at this age, he can help overcome thanks to a brilliant QB mind that gives the Colts an advantage in the chess match aspect to the game nearly every week. Of course, some definite credit to the offensive line as well for protecting Rivers beautifully again on Sunday, which allowed for the Colts to hit on the most big plays of the season and go an incredible 8-of-11 on third down. Something we haven’t given enough credit to here in 2020—Rivers has led the Colts now to 4 straight wins on the road (tying the longest road win streak for the franchise since 2009). No fans or not, that’s darn impressive, especially when you factor in the huge playoff implications that were there in Nashville and Las Vegas.

2. No. 1 RB and No. 1 WR On Display: If you listened to Kevin’s Corner this past week, you heard us stress the emergence of a Jonathan Taylor/T.Y. Hilton down the stretch for this football team. Sunday was the perfect example of just that. Taylor got things started on the opening series, and we finally saw his home run ability take off in the open field. Taylor, who had come on in recent weeks, had a career-day with 150 rushing yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. It was the 62-yarder, thanks to great blocking and 4.3 40-yard dash speed, that will be on the highlight reel. Plays like that are exactly why the Colts felt Taylor was worthy of trading up for in the 2nd round. And then Hilton looked like his 2016 self on Sunday, catching 5 balls for 86 yards and 2 touchdowns. You had Hilton making a huge contested 3rd-and-Goal touchdown in the first quarter, and then he got behind the Raiders secondary in the second period for a 41-yard score. There has not been another game this season where the Colts got No. 1 running back and No. 1 wideout play like they did on Sunday. And now, opposing defensive coordinators must treat Taylor and Hilton with even more respect in December and January.

3. Kenny Moore Shows Cornerback Resilience: “Frustrated.” That’s how Kenny Moore described his play up until the point where he made arguably the best play of the 2020 NFL season. It was so uncharacteristic to see Moore give up a touchdown in coverage, and then have a missed tackle and compound that with a horse collar penalty. But, like any elite cornerback, Moore responded with resilience that coaches dream for their players to bring to a 60-minute game. It started with Moore’s leaping/palming one-handed snare of an interception on a 3rd-and-8 from the Colts’ 13-yard line in the second quarter. As Frank Reich said afterwards, it was an ‘Odell Beckham Jr.’ type of grab by the 5-9 Moore, who had 6-6 tight end Darren Waller waiting behind him for the touchdown. If that play ended as a Raiders touchdown or even just a pass breakup by Moore, the Raiders are either ending that drive with the lead or a tied score. In short, this play changed the game. With the INT coming at the 3:30 mark of the second quarter, the Colts then drove 78 yards in 13 plays, running out the rest of the first half clock as Rodrigo Blankenship hit a field goal at the halftime buzzer to give the Colts a 20-14 lead. Just in case Moore needed another reason to make up for his sloppy play early, he added a textbook forced fumble early in the fourth quarter, with the game still somewhat in question. What Moore did on Sunday is how an NFL corner must respond from the ups and downs that inevitably come from that position. It’s another reason why Moore should be a Pro Bowler in 2020.

4. Xavier Rhodes, Darius Leonard Injury Watches: Whenever you see the likes of Xavier Rhodes (knee) and Darius Leonard (back) get hurt in a game and not return, concern rises. But let’s begin with some possible good news. Frank Reich didn’t have a ton of detail on those respective injuries after Sunday’s win, but he did mention that neither player was ruled out for the rest of the game by the team’s medical staff, even though neither returned to action. No one needs me to remind you what Rhodes and Leonard mean to this football team. These are obviously injuries to watch, although it appears the Colts avoided season-enders based off neither player being ruled out. On the injury front, a less than 100 percent Anthony Castonzo gutted it out. Castonzo left the game for a bit in the first quarter because he said his knee ‘grabbed’ on him. Castonzo said he lost a bit of strength in his injured knee (MCL sprain in his right knee). He went into the locker room, got things tested to make sure he wouldn’t re-injure it, and returned to the game and helped the offense have its best performance of the season.

5. Colts Take Huge Step Towards Playoff Berth: All week long, you heard about how important this one was for the Colts and Raiders. When it came to the Colts, a win on Sunday took on even more meaning when the Titans throttled the Jaguars in the early afternoon slate. At 9-4, the Colts are currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture (Browns and Ravens meeting on Monday night could shift some things). Sunday’s win keeps the Colts in control of clinching a playoff berth. If the Colts win 2 of their final 3 games, that should definitely lock up a playoff berth. Honestly, even 1 more win (Texans, at Steelers, Jaguars) should be enough to get in. Of course, they want that home game. And that means finishing above the 9-4 Titans (Lions, at Packers, at Texans). Around Thanksgiving, we mentioned that unless the Colts lost to both the Titans and Raiders down the stretch, they would most likely be a playoff team in 2020. Well, Sunday’s impressive effort against another playoff hungry team showed why the Colts are likely to be playing meaningful games in January, and the Raiders look to be more in the pretender category watching the postseason.

 

QUICK HITTERS

Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: P-Rigoberto Sanchez (illness), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DE-Ben Banogu, CB-Tremon Smith, OT-Will Holden, WR-DeMichael Harris. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes left the game in the 3rd quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Linebacker Darius Leonard (back) left the game in the 4th quarter and did not return.

Key Stat: The 44 points scored was the most for the franchise since Week 13 of the 2014 season (49 points).

What’s Next: The Colts (9-4) will return home in Week 15, taking on the Texans (4-9) in a 1:00 PM kick.