Colts’ notebook: Playoffs, Eric Ebron, Andrew Luck’s protection and more

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 11: Eric Ebron #85 of the Indianapolis Colts dives for a touchdown in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Don’t look now, but the Indianapolis Colts aren’t out of the playoff picture.

You’ll notice we didn’t say they’re in the playoff picture, but that’s to be determined.

A third straight victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars – 29-26, and yes, it was that close – pushed their record to 4-5 and keeps them relevant. Looming are two more at Lucas Oil Stadium: Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (5-4) and Nov. 25 against Miami (5-5).

If the Colts get to 6-5, things figure to get real interesting.

On the heels of their win over the Jaguars, they sit in third place in the AFC South behind Houston (6-3) and the Titans.

In terms of a wild-card berth, the Los Angeles Chargers are 7-2 and the front-runner for one. The second? Chasing the final spot over the second half of the season figure to be the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Cincinnati (5-4) and Baltimore (4-5). The Bengals would own the tiebreaker with the Colts based on their season-opening win, but they’re a mess. They were rolled at home Sunday at New Orleans 51-14.

Is Andrew Luck up to speed on the AFC South?

“No, and don’t tell me,’’ he said. “I think we realize the hole we dug.

“I think we understand the reality of that situation, but we are not going to let ourselves play the, ‘OK, we need them to do this and them to do that.’ That doesn’t fly in this league. I’ve been there (and) it doesn’t work.

“You take care of your business. That’s all you can worry about.’’

The bottom line is the Colts have positioned themselves to contend if they take care of their business.

They have failed to reach the playoffs in three straight seasons. The last time they went four seasons without a playoff appearance: 1978-86.

Big day for Ebron

Eric Ebron was quick out of the locker room Sunday. The veteran tight end was headed to dinner with his family.

There was much to celebrate.

While the Colts were hummin’ their way to a 29-16 halftime lead over the Jaguars, Ebron was having himself quick the afternoon. He caught 53- and 12-yard touchdown passes from Luck, and added a 2-yard TD run.

Ebron is the first Colts’ tight end to rush for a TD, and joined New England’s Rob Gronkowski as the only tight ends in NFL history to notch two receiving TDs and one rushing TD in the same game.

Ebron was wide open on both of his TD catches.

“They don’t call me 7-11 for nothing,’’ he said. “I’m always open.’’

Ebron was one of general manager Chris Ballard’s top off-season free-agent acquisitions, and he’s exceeding expectations. He has 10 total TDs in nine games, and is the Colts’ leading receiver with 39 catches, 463 yards and 9 TDs. He’s closing in on Dallas Clark’s record for touchdowns by a tight end (11 in 2011).

“Well, the game plan was for me to come and for me to help,’’ Ebron said. “Really for men, honestly, that was my sole purpose as you know. I believed in my talents and my abilities and the coaching staff did as well.

“They believed that I would come here and make something happen.’’

Ebron’s contribution in the run game was a career rarity. Prior to Sunday, he had one legitimate rushing attempt – a 1-yard TD for Detroit against Jacksonville in 2016. He was credited with one rush for a minus-1 yard on a lateral from Luck against the New York Jets.

“Eric talks about everything for quite a while,’’ Luck said, “so I assume the run play (as well). But he’s doing a heck of a job. He’s buying into this team.’’

Protection holds up

Don’t look now, but the Colts’ pass protection remains arguably the NFL’s best.

The offensive line and complementary components didn’t allow a sack for a fourth straight game for the first time since 2009. Luck, meanwhile, has attempted a personal-best 185 passes without being sacked.

Our research shows that being the second-longest streak in team history. Peyton Manning attempted 186 passes without being sacked in 2009.

“It’s incredible we go another game without (allowing) a sack against that defense,’’ Frank Reich said.

Jacksonville generated 10 sacks of Jacoby Brissett the last time it was in town, and had 19 in its first eight games. It tried to pressure Luck primarily with four-man rushes.

That didn’t sit well with center Ryan Kelly.

“They were pretty much rushing a four-man rush,’’ he said. “I think it’s kind of a slap in the face to us thinking that we can’t block just four guys . . . we knew coming out after we gashed them a few times and Andrew was getting rid of the ball quick.’’

The Colts have allowed just 10 sacks all season.

Luck milestones

Luck continues to benefit from a relatively clean passing pocket. He became just the third quarterback in league history to pass for at least three TDs in six consecutive games during the same season. The other two: Tom Brady (10 game in 2007) and Peyton Manning (8 games in ’04).

Luck also extended his streak of games with a TD pass to 32, the league’s longest-active streak and the second-longest in team history (John Unitas, 47).

Against the Jaguars, he completed 21-of-29 passes for 285 yards with three TDs and one interception.

Lewis debut

Rookie defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis made his first appearance of the season, and made it count. The second-round draft pick was credited three tackles, one quarterback hit and one pass defensed.

Lewis spent the first eight weeks of the season on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury, and was added to the active roster Friday. He mentioned he had targeted Sunday for his NFL debut: it was the birthday of his late great-grandmother.

“I mean, I just want to win. That’s all,’’ he said. “Being effective and contribute to this team. Everything comes and happens for a reason.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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