Colts use Buffalo for heavy dose of positive reinforcement

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It was a start, and certainly beat the alternative had they not taken care of business when the Buffalo Bills brought their sorriness to town over the weekend.

Players have bought into what coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have been selling since that first team meeting in April. They’ve embraced Reich’s three-T foundation of trust, toughness and team, along for Reich’s demand for “that relentless pursuit to get better every day and an obsession to finish.

“I’m sure they get tired of hearing me talk about that,’’ he said Monday. “We talk about it all the time.’’

The message has been constant, but at what point does it lose some of its bite? After four straight losses? After a 1-5 record?

“You want to see results,’’ Reich said. “I think we’ve seen flashes of that and we’ve seen how when things are clicking how it works.

“But you really need to put it all together and get wins. As we all know, that’s ultimately what we’re really measured by. We can see progress, but we need to see it wins and losses.’’

A forceful step came Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The offense was at its complementary best as it featured a little of Andrew Luck (23 pass attempts, 156 yards, four TD passes) and a lot from the running game (220 yards, 126 from Marlon Mack). The defense feasted on the talent-challenged Bills with five takeaways that led to 24 points.

“It’s a sign of a good day,’’ veteran safety Mike Mitchell said. “It’s a good day. We need to have a bunch more good days.’’

“We checked all the boxes,’’ Reich said after the game.

About time.

During the four-game skid, the Colts too often were their own worst enemy. Dropped passes. Penalties. Turnovers. Missed opportunities.

For at least three hours Sunday afternoon, the Colts feasted on positive reinforcement.

“I think our team needed to feel a game like this, from the offensive perspective against a really good defense,’’ Luck said. “I think our team needed to feel a game like this to understand what it can be like when we take care of the little things and just do the routine well, do the simple well.

“I thought we did that. I thought we played complementary football by doing the simple things right.’’

Now, do it again.

After taking advantage of Buffalo’s starless mess, the Colts turn their attention to 1-5 Oakland. And as if optimism already wasn’t nose-diving in Raider Nation, it’s hard to imagine things improving Monday after management traded wideout Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round draft pick. They’re also without leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, who was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list Monday, and let’s not forget the trade that shipped pass-rush phenom Khalil Mack to Chicago.

Despite failing to capitalize on so many early-season opportunities – Cincinnati, Houston, Philly – the Colts still find themselves in position to remain relevant if they can head into next week’s bye with a 3-5 record.

Over the final nine games of the season, they face a less-than-daunting schedule. Opponents are a combined 25-36 (.410), and only Miami (4-3) and Houston (4-3) have winning records.

After enjoying their bye, the Colts have three straight at home against 3-4 Jacksonville, which is an absolute mess; 3-4 Tennessee; and 4-3 Miami. Along with one-win Oakland, they also entertain the one-win New York Giants in December.

About that bad snap/safety

Reich offered a detailed explanation of Ryan Kelly’s shotgun snap to Luck in the third quarter that went through Luck’s hands and out of the end zone for a Bills’ safety.

Luck said it was a “miscommunication that we’ll clean up.’’

Reich provided specifics. The bottom line: Kelly served up a premature snap.

“Yeah, we were using a double count,’’ Reich said. “So long story short, you are saying, ‘Blue 80, blue 80, hut, hut, hut,’ and then you are going to come around and then give another color number combination and then say, ‘Set, hut’ again.

“When you are using a double count, you snap it after the second number color combination and Ryan accidentally snapped it after the first combination. So Andrew wasn’t expecting it back there.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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