INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts created the perfect bye week script Sunday.
They again topped the 200-yard mark on the ground and and scored 30 points for the seventh time in eight games. Defensively, Indy forced forced two more turnovers, allowed 141 total yards and pitched a road shutout for the first time since December 1992. The 31-0 victory at struggling Houston also put the Colts above .500 for the second time this season, keeping them in the middle of the AFC playoff hunt.
Now comes the hard part: maintaining that momentum when Indy returns from its long-awaited break.
“We know what’s at stake," quarterback Carson Wentz said Sunday. “We know where we’re at and we know who’s coming in, all those things. But once it’s December, it’s go time. It’s crunch time, so it’ll be a fun one.”
Sure, Wentz and his teammates know making the postseason remains an uphill battle with little margin for error. Tennessee swept the season series with Indianapolis and also holds a two-game lead in the AFC South, essentially giving the Titans a three-game gap with a month to go.
The Colts also are one of nine AFC teams with six or seven wins vying for the final three playoff spots. And after the bye, Indy faces another daunting three-game run against AFC East-leading New England, NFC West-leading Arizona on Christmas night and another playoff contender, Las Vegas, before finishing the season at Jacksonville.
Still, it's a better scenario than the one Wentz faced last December in Philadelphia — or the Colts were facing in mid-October with a 1-5 record.
What will it take for the Colts to complete another remarkable comeback to make the playoffs?
Maintaining focus and energy, staying healthy and replicating their most recent performance against better competition when they return to work next week.
“We’ve got to win every week. It’s kind of a playoff game every week," Reich said. “I think our guys have been tested, and I think that’s a good thing. We’ve had a really good schedule as far as we've played a lot of good playoff teams, and hopefully we’re learning and getting better from each of those contests."
Converting turnovers into scores. Indy forced turnovers on Houston's first two possessions, capitalizing on the first with a touchdown before missing a short field goal following the second. The Colts still lead the league in takeaways (29), turnover margin (plus-13) and points off turnovers (112).
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Deep passing. The Colts reverted to their run-first philosophy and it worked wonders as they played efficiently while burning the clock. What's been lacking over the past several weeks, though, are the deep throws and penalties Indy accrued earlier this season. Instead, Wentz has relied primarily on short and intermediate throws.
Kenny Moore II. The fifth-year cornerback solidified his Pro Bowl case Sunday by picking off Tyrod Taylor on the first play of the game and forcing a fumble on Houston's fifth play. Moore leads the Colts with four interceptions and trails only linebackers Bobby Okereke and Darius Leonard with 77 tackles. Leonard is a two-time All-Pro.
T.Y. Hilton. Injuries have made it difficult for the four-time Pro Bowler to have a significant impact this season. Even Sunday against a team he's toyed with through the years, Hilton wasn't much of a factor. Wentz threw two passes to Hilton, who caught both for 22 yards.
Reich said Monday the Colts suffered no significant injuries at Houston. They activated starting safety Khari Willis (calf) from injured reserve on Saturday and remain hopeful starting center Ryan Kelly returns against New England, Kelly was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday.
163.0 — Jonathan Taylor leads the league with 1,348 yards rushing despite playing seven games against the league's top-10 run defenses. Indy's final four foes are ranked 16th, 20th, 21st and 26th against the run and the 22-year-old needs 163.0 yards per game to become the youngest 2,000-yard rusher in NFL history.
Rest and recovery. The Colts are among four teams finally get their bye week. It's the latest any team has had in two decades, and after battling injuries through most of the first two months, Indianapolis finally gets a chance to recharge before embarking on a four-game stretch that will dictate its January plans.