INDIANAPOLIS – In a week in which the Colts (1-1-1) were challenged quite a bit, they hung in there for 60 minutes to earn a win they so badly needed.
The Colts upset the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) on Sunday afternoon, winning 20-17, to earn their first victory of the season.
Here is what we learned from the Colts winning, despite being the biggest home underdog of the Frank Reich era:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Create Some Luck, Accept The Gifts: That right there sums up the Colts upsetting the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Did Kansas City give Indianapolis 13 different gifts for the win (should Chris Jones go into the Colts Ring of Honor for his unsportsmanlike penalty)? Without question. But did the Colts create some of those chances? Did the Indy defense record important third-down stop after important third-down stop to keep KC out of the end zone in the second half? Did the rookie pass catchers for Indy deliver with moments this team needs right now? Certainly. One week after being humiliated in Jacksonville, it was the Colts defense hanging in there all afternoon long to keep the margin at one score, and give the home team some hope. When you continue to apply game pressure all afternoon long, weird things happen in the NFL. And then Matt Ryan and the offense finally overcame a rocky afternoon, showing poise and belief to play an entire 60 minutes and deliver a game-winning drive this franchise hasn’t been able to orchestrate in recent years. Truly bad football teams get gifts like the Colts did on Sunday and refuse to turn them into wins. The Colts got it done though, continuing to show some resolve under Frank Reich when their backs are against the wall. And at 1-1-1, they continue to be in a fine position within the AFC South.
2. A Defensive Performance To Remember: Teams dream of holding Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to 17 points. Sunday’s Colts blueprint had to have Jonathan Taylor and the offense controlling the clock/limiting Kansas City possessions + a consistent Colts pass rush disrupting things for Mahomes. The first part of that blueprint wasn’t entirely there on Sunday, but the defensive effort was pretty darn good, going against that QB. Mahomes was 20-of-35 for 262 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. The Chiefs moved the ball, with 7 of their 10 drives getting to Indy territory. But the old adage of ‘bend but don’t break’ showed up more often than not for the Colts. They didn’t allow a TD on the final 4 drives of the game, all of which reached their side of the field. Giving up just one of those TDs would have probably been the difference. Instead, it was the mix of rush and cover that forced Mahomes and the Chiefs into a 3-of-10 day on third down. It was that type of performance, allowing 3 points in the second half that kept the Colts with a chance. Just one sack doesn’t tell the full story for how well the defensive line played. And credit to rookie safety Rodney Thomas, who played more than half the game in place of an injured Julian Blackmon. Most rookies would wilt in such a situation against Mahomes. But Thomas held his own, while veterans Stephon Gilmore and Rodney McLeod sealed the game with a closing interception.
3. Rookie Pass Catchers Deliver In The Clutch: I’ve certainly been the one to criticize the lack of pass catching playmakers on this 2022 Colts roster. But rookies Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods made plays on Sunday they’ll never forget. Sure, their first NFL catches obviously fall into that category. But how about the plays they delivered on Sunday’s game-winning drive? The Chiefs smartly weren’t going to let Michael Pittman beat them, but Matt Ryan had no problem looking to Pierce and Woods with the game on the line. It was Pierce going out of his catch radius for a 14-yard gain on a 2nd-and-8 to get the Colts within end zone striking distance as the clock approached one minute to play. Two plays later, Ryan targeted the 6-7 Jelani Woods over the middle on a 2-and-10. It was Woods, who battled inconsistency in training camp, making a beautiful hands catch, maintaining control in traffic, for the game-winning touchdown. What will this do for the rookie duo, who the Colts so desperately need to show up right now? It has to be a huge confidence boost, with no flinching, moving forward.
4. Colts Offensive Line Concern Still There: That’s the NFL’s highest paid offensive line? When you factor in the money being paid towards the group, no position has been more disappointing this season than the Colts offensive line. If it wasn’t for that Jones penalty following a Kansas City third-down stop with 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, many would have the O-line has the biggest blame for a second straight winless September. On Sunday, you saw plenty of individual breakdowns up front, but also some major miscommunication issues. Free rushers were everywhere, and the Colts had little counter to that whatsoever. For a 15-year vet at QB and a 7-year vet at center, it’s inexcusable to misidentify so many rushers, and then not be prepared to take advantage of that opportunity. While the Colts decided not to offer any real off-season competition to new starters Matt Pryor (at left tackle) and Danny Pinter (at right guard), the guys paid a lot (Kelly and Braden Smith) aren’t playing anywhere near expectation. When what you want to be your biggest strength isn’t playing at even an average level, you are going to get exposed. And that’s where the Colts offense is at right now. Is offensive line coach Chris Strausser the issue? Even in such a sigh of relief win, the Colts biggest investment remains a concern.
5. How To View This Performance: Stating the obvious: the Colts needed a win. Jim Irsay, Chris, Ballard, Frank Reich and the players. When you haven’t won a September game since 2020, no one is going to apologize for any win. And they shouldn’t, especially against such a quality opponent. At some point this season, the Colts were going to need to make up for the missed win chances in Weeks 1 and 2. Well, there’s one of them. In the AFC South, with the Titans winning on Sunday, it was obviously important for Indianapolis to get in the ‘W’ column before Tennessee comes to Lucas Oil Stadium next weekend. Now, does a win on Sunday cure all and quiet any concern over what we saw to start the season? Of course not. NFL teams don’t often hand you a muffed punt, missed extra point, missed 34-yard field goal and a failed fake field goal attempt on a 4th-and-11. Before we get back to thinking this Colts team is what we thought they could be at the start of the season (a viable AFC playoff team), they need to show they can string some better performances together. Will Sunday’s result though be the confidence jolt they need heading into another massive Colts/Titans contest next week?
-Injury Report: The following Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: S-Julian Blackmon (ankle).
-Key Stat: The Colts held the Chiefs to 17 points on Sunday. Prior to Sunday, these were the point totals the Chiefs had scored in their 5 previous road games: 44, 28, 31, 34, 41.
-What’s Next: The Colts (1-1-1) will be back at home in Week Four, taking on the Titans (1-2). This will continue a stretch of 5 AFC South games for the Colts in the first 7 weeks of the season.