INDIANAPOLIS – It is finally, bleeping, over.
The Indianapolis Colts (8-6) beat the New England Patriots (9-5) on Saturday night, in a 27-17 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What did we learn from the Colts taking a giant step towards the postseason?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Rivalry Back On?: Finally, the Colts have beaten the old nemesis from New England. After 8 straight losses, by an average of 18 points, the Colts beat the Patriots on Saturday night for the first time since 2009. All week long many Colts acknowledged the extra juice that was here with playing the Patriots. And they backed that up with a performance Colts fans will remember for years to come. It was the Colts, and not the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots, as the more disciplined team, avoiding huge penalties that the Pats often committed at critical moments. It was the Colts staying aggressive, converting three 4th-and-1s all on sneaks by Carson Wentz. And Matt Eberfus had his way with Josh McDaniels for much of this one. While the players on the Indy roster aren’t as locked into what Colts/Patriots means to the full extent, those inside of Lucas Oil Stadium let them know on Saturday night. This win takes care of a hurdle that was there for the franchise. That might mean little to some players, but it means a ton to those in the Indy community with pent up venom to the Patriots, and it’s why Jim Irsay got a game ball from Frank Reich. Those infamous words Chris Ballard said after Josh McDaniels stabbed the Colts in the back a few years ago—“the rivalry is back on”— turned into action on Saturday. Who knows, maybe come playoff time, these two teams will meet again in January with even more at stake. That should help re-ignite this rivalry.
2. MVP Statement Seals It: Oh man, was Lucas Oil Stadium on edge late in this one. The Colts were against the ropes, having seen their 20-0 lead wilt to 20-17. A normally aggressive, ready to throw, Frank Reich wasn’t about to put the ball in the hands of his shaky quarterback, especially not on 2nd down. It was going to be up to Jonathan Taylor and the offensive line to win this game, and did they ever. On a 2nd-and-8 run with 2:11 to go, Taylor ran behind Quenton Nelson and had a nice hole that looked like it would set the Colts up for a 3rd-and-Short. But Taylor has the ability to turn something into a home run when you give him space. Taylor put his left foot in the ground and cut back to the right, with Patriots veteran LB-Dont’a Hightower and S-Devin McCourty whiffing and No. 28 free into the open field to a roaring Lucas Oil Stadium. Taylor finished the night with 29 carries for 170 yards, exposing a below average New England run defense. But that 67-yard game-clinching touchdown was an MVP-type moment in front of a national audience. The Colts have one of the best players in the NFL at running back and they will (likely) be riding him into the postseason thanks to what he did in capping off this night to remember for Colts fans.
3. Linebacker Room Deserves Game Ball: How about one for a position group that Chris Ballard has totally re-shaped in his tenure? Where to begin with the Colts linebacker group on Saturday? You have to start with the punt block by Matthew Adams, which was scooped up by E.J. Speed for a first-half touchdown that gave the Colts a two-score lead they would hold all the way until the final 90 seconds (and, former Patriots player/coach, Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone rightfully erupted after that play). Darius Leonard obviously got into the act, with The Maniac thwarting a big New England scoring opportunity late in the first half. With the Patriots on the verge of cutting the deficit to 14-7, along with getting the ball to start the third quarter, Leonard made sure Mac Jones felt him again by recording yet another turnover. He’s unlikely to win the award, but Leonard is putting up a darn impressive resume for Defensive Player of the Year. To cap things, it was Bobby Okereke making an incredible diving interception to start the second half, which led to 3 Indy points. And that ended up being a very important turnover/field goal off of it. The thing in common with these 4 guys? They all are draft picks by Ballard. Position coach Dave Borgonzi, get a game ball for your entire room.
4. Overcame Shaky Carson Wentz: The Colts won this game with bully ball and not because of their quarterback. It’s downright amazing that the Colts beat the Patriots (by two scores!) and Carson Wentz was 5-of-12 for 57 yards 1 “touchdown” and 1 interception. Wentz was terrible and yet the Colts will beat one of the best teams in the AFC. Glass half full? What an accomplishment by the Colts and how complete could this team be when its QB offers a little bit more. Glass half empty? Wentz’s two shakiest games this season have occurred in the two biggest ones (home vs. the Titans, Patriots). It has to be noted because Wentz plays the most important position on the field and there will be moments in January where the game inevitably falls on his shoulders. What Wentz will we see? That’s a mystery and a bit of an uneasy one, even though Wentz has played some really nice football for long stretches this season. Of the 12 passes Wentz threw on Saturday, the Patriots got their hands on 6. That’s astonishing. The Colts look capable of a deep January run in so many spots, but this uber-important one remains a question that we likely won’t get an answer to until one-and-done football arrives.
5. Giant Step Towards Playoffs: Unless the Colts collapse in the final three weeks, they should make the playoffs for a second straight season. That’s what Saturday’s win meant to the now 8-6 Colts, who enter Sunday as the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Saturday’s result had about a 40 percent shift in playoff chances depending on win or loss. The Colts now have around an 88 percent chance at making the playoffs. Getting another conference win only strengthens the important tiebreaker the Colts continue to hold in their favor. With Tennessee’s magic number of winning the AFC South at just 2 (combination of Titans wins and Colts losses in the final 4 weeks), the Wild Card route was always the most realistic path for the Colts since getting swept by the Titans back on Halloween. And the Colts have watched over the last few weeks as they’ve received tons of help from other AFC playoff hopefuls. But for the Colts to finish this off, they had to do their part. And Saturday, in beating one of top teams in the AFC, the Colts took a huge step forward in accomplishing the goal of making the postseason. Plus, no matter who finishes 2nd in the AFC East (Patriots, Bills or Dolphins), the Colts will have the head-to-head tiebreaker over that team. If you are making a list of the best teams in the AFC right now, you are not getting very far without mentioning the Colts.
-Injury Report: The team’s inactives were as followed: C-Ryan Kelly (personal), LB-Malik Jefferson, RB-Marlon Mack, OT-Julie’n Davenport, WR-Mike Strachan, DE-Ben Bangou.
-Key Stat: With another rushing touchdown on Saturday, Jonathan Taylor now has a rushing TD in 11 straight games. That’s the longest streak in the NFL since LaDanian Tomlinson in 2004.
–What’s Next: The Colts (8-6) will play on Saturday night again in Week 16. It’ll be a trip to take on the Arizona Cardinals (10-4) next week.