INDIANAPOLIS – You never apologize for a win, but if there ever was a time to do it…
Nonetheless, in one of the worst football games you’ll ever witness, the Colts (2-2-1) stunk less than the Broncos (2-3) on Thursday night.
Here is what we learned from the Colts beating the Broncos 12-9 in overtime:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Defensive Stars Get It Done: Entering Thursday night, the Colts had not received enough from their top-paid guys this season. On Thursday though, the top-flight guys on defense really delivered. From the ‘had-to-have’ interception by Stephon Gilmore to give the Colts one final hope in regulation. And then the big-time pass break-up with Gilmore locked up in man coverage on Courtland Sutton. How about DeForest Buckner, who looked like a totally different player than the one clearly limited with his elbow injury against the Titans. Buckner had 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and a pass defensed. It was a Buckner sack which led to a Denver field goal attempt (which fellow defensive tackle Grover Stewart blocked). Later in the game, it was Kenny Moore breaking up what would have been a touchdown down the seam. Even Yannick Ngakoue got into the mix with a sack, thanks to a very nice stunt set-up from DeForest Buckner. Without Shaquille Leonard, several of the Colts defensive stars finally got back to playing at the level needed. If the Colts don’t get any of these plays, they more than likely lose. In the non-star front, rookie Rodney Thomas II continues to look like a guy who belongs at this level. It’s pretty remarkable to see how the 7th round pick has stepped in for Julian Blackmon.
2. Lucky Numbers 7 And 14: This is where I’m handing out a game ball to Chase McLaughlin and Alec Pierce. As the Colts franchise has slugged through recent long-distance kicking issues, McLaughlin was money on Thursday night. He was 4-of-4, including makes from 48, 51 and 52. In a game where no one found the end zone, McLaughlin’s perfect night was the difference, while Denver had one of its field goal attempts blocked. It was extremely impressive stuff from McLaughlin, and a much different kicking tune than how the Colts tied their season opener in Houston. And then Pierce, who caught 8 of his 9 targets for 81 yards, was brilliant. The rookie had some critical moments late in this one and continues to display more and more from a route tree standpoint. With heavy defensive attention towards Michael Pittman, it’s Pierce who is going to start commanding some of that. Pierce just has a great demeanor for handling bigger moments and such a knack for finding the football. The best unit of the night was certainly the Colts defense, but these two individuals were outstanding in primetime.
3. About That Matt Ryan Decision: Well, at least the Colts have their first-round pick next year in exchange for another poor quarterback decision. Although, that $35 million cap hit for Matt Ryan is looking very ugly right about now. No one will deny that Ryan is under siege way too often right now. The offensive line he was promised in Indy is nowhere to be found. But Ryan’s decision making looks like a guy making his 1st NFL start, and not playing in his 15th NFL season. Ryan had two awful interceptions on Thursday night, balls that should have never been thrown, halting one promising Indy drive and setting up a Denver field goal. When Carson Wentz was tossing interceptions (he had just 7 in his lone season in Indy), he was doing it trying to be Houdini-like in avoiding sacs. The Ryan picks (7 now in 5 games) on Thursday came in some of his cleanest pockets of the night and could have been crippling in a game that drives were so precious. And Ryan has now fumbled 11 times in 5 games with the Colts. As we wrote following last week’s game, the Colts not making a serious, young quarterback investment next offseason would be criminal. When people are asking Sam Ehlinger questions on October 6th, and those are not immediately laughed at, it shows you how dire the Colts quarterback situation is moving forward.
4. Massive Offensive Line Changes: Wow, that was quite the short-week offensive line change by the Colts. Despite having zero practices in prepping for Thursday Night Football, the Colts made three changes to their offensive line. It was Braden Smith moving to right guard (replacing Will Fries, who was replacing the benched Danny Pinter), Matt Pryor flipping over from left tackle to right guard and then rookie Bernhard Raimann getting his first NFL start at center. This 5-man grouping, with Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly at their normal spots (until Kelly exited in the 2nd quarter, which brought Pinter in at center), was something we saw very briefly, for a few practice periods, late in camp. The result on Thursday? About what one should expect in such a drastic move without any practices. Matt Ryan was under siege all night. Bernhard Raimann was whistled for approximately 1,732 penalties. The group was flagged 6 times in total and gave up 6 sacks to a Denver front missing its top pass rusher. No position group has failed its team more this season more than the Colts offensive line, and such a statement could be made for the entire league. Now five games into the season, Ryan has been sacked 20 times. For context, Andrew Luck was sacked 18 times with Frank Reich in 2018, and Philip Rivers was sacked 19 times in 2020. It’s not even mid-October and the NFL’s highest paid offensive line is a disaster of a unit with zero clue on more than half of their starting positions.
5. Excited? Relieved? Skeptical? How about a little of everything in the emotions of Colts fans after witnessing that one? Let’s start with the result. This win (yes it was a W) keeps the Colts squarely in that AFC South mix. And the Colts need to get some of these games away from their division after squandering the early season opportunities there. Evaluating the performance though, such an effort is not going to be the type of product that will get the Colts to experience January football this season. Vast improvements are an absolute must to get there. Again, the Colts have now gone 7 straight games without scoring 20 points, which ties the longest such streak for the franchise since 1993. Did the Colts just stink less than the Broncos on Thursday. Probably. The Colts will now have the weekend off with their mini-bye. Awaiting them when they return are back-to-back divisional games with the Jaguars (home) and Titans (road). In already missing out on a win in the Colts first three chances in the AFC South, it’s obvious how massive those contests will be to any divisional push (say it with me, ‘God bless the AFC South’). Injury wise, the Colts will be monitoring quite a few after the mini-bye with Kwity Paye (ankle) being carted off on Thursday, and Ryan Kelly (hip) leaving early, to go along with Jonathan Taylor (ankle), Nyheim Hines (concussion), Shaquille Leonard (nose, concussion, back) and Julian Blackmon (ankle). If the Colts want to stay near the top of the AFC South, these next two weeks are of the utmost importance considering the missed chances so far this year, which isn’t ideal in the month of October.
-Injury Report: The following Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: RB-Nyheim Hines (concussion), C-Ryan Kelly (hip), WR-Ashton Dulin (foot), DE-Kwity Paye (ankle).
–Key Stat: The last time the Colts won a game without scoring a touchdown was in 2003, a 9-6 victory over the Browns.
–What’s Next: The Colts (2-2-1) mini bye is here, so they’ll take the weekend off. Up next on the schedule is a massive AFC South contest at home vs. the Jaguars (2-2) on October 16th, with a trip to Tennessee (2-2) the following Sunday.
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