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Colts’ notebook: Marlon Mack sets tone with team record 148 yards

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 05: Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball in the second quarter defended by Benardrick McKinney #55 of the Houston Texans and Duke Ejiofor #53 during the Wild Card Round at NRG Stadium on January 5, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They’ve been in playoff mode for the better part of two months, and have rolled out their playoff blueprint when it’s mattered the most.

In the win-or-else regular-season finale at Tennessee and Saturday’s first-round playoff game at Houston, the Indianapolis Colts have gotten 507 passing yards and five touchdowns from Andrew Luck.

But let’s not kid ourselves, they’ve rolled up their sleeves and allowed their bullish offensive line and Marlon Mack to set the tone and extend their season.

Listen to tight end Eric Ebron.

“That’s December football into January,’’ he said after the Colts’ 21-7 win over the Houston Texans. “We pass it when we have to, but we’re going to try and dominate the run game and try to dominate the line of scrimmage.

“That’s the kind of football you have to play now.’’

In the 33-17 play-in win over the Titans, Mack wore ‘em down with 119 yards and one TD on 25 carries.

Saturday, he helped rewrite a few lines in the Colts’ record book. Mack’s 148 yards were a single-game playoff record – topping Zach Crockett’s mark by 1 yard – while the team’s 200-yard total eclipsed the 191 compiled in Super Bowl XLI.

It all came against a Houston run defense that ranked No. 3 in yards per game (82.7) and No. 1 in yards per attempt (3.4), and had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

“I’m proud of Marlon, proud of all the guys up front,’’ Luck said.

The offensive line was boosted by the return of center Ryan Kelly, who missed the Titans game with a neck injury.

Frank Reich conceded the game plan was to attempt to establish the run game, which would ease Luck’s load and help neutralize J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. He was optimistic that approach would be successful.

“Just a belief in our offensive line,’’ he said. “I mean, we had a good week last week against a good (Titans) defense. We’ve had multiple good weeks.

“There was just a real strong conviction this week for us as a team that this is what it’s going to take to make some noise in the playoffs. We know we have an elite quarterback and we can throw it for 400 (yards) and win when we have to.

“But what we talked about is the margin for error in playoff football when you try to do it that way is very thin. When you can win like this, when you can win running the football and stopping it, that’s just everything.’’

T.Y. an early force

T.Y. Hilton did nothing to diminish his reputation as a major thorn in the Texans’ side. He finished with 5 catches and 85 yards – both team highs – despite not practicing last week due to an injury to his right ankle.

The Colts opened with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Luck’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Ebron, but it featured Hilton. He had three catches for 63 yards, including two on third down that kept the drive alive.

“Yeah, the first drive was huge,’’ Reich said. “And yeah, when the plays were scripted, those plays were going to T.Y. We always like getting T.Y. involved early.’’

The opening drive included a 38-yard hookup with Hilton that gave the Colts a first-and-goal at the 6.

“Sometimes we don’t always take that shot as early as we took that shot, but just felt good about it,’’ Reich said. “Felt like it was the right thing to do and just had a lot of confidence in it.

“When T.Y. gets out and gets going, that sets us all going.’’

In eight games in Houston, Hilton has 46 receptions, 1,018 yards and seven TDs.

Reich on a roll

The Colts have followed the lead of their first-year head coach. Who can blame them?

He’s the eighth coach in team history to take a team to the playoffs in his first season. But he’s just the third to win his first playoff game, joining Jim Caldwell (2009) and Don McCafferty (1970).

Here’s where we remind you the Colts named Reich their head coach only after Josh McDaniels reneged on an agreement to succeed Chuck Pagano.

“Couldn’t be more proud, man,’’ owner Jim Irsay said of Reich. “He’s a smart guy who took a great job. He saw a great general manager and a great quarterback and said, ‘I’m hitching my pony there.’

“We love Frank. He’s our man. Like I said when we hired him, ‘How could I be so stupid? He should have been our first choice to begin with.’’’

This and that

The Colts joined the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs and 1970 Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams to overcome a 1-5 start and reach the playoffs. They joined the Chiefs as the only 1-5 teams to win a first-round playoff game.

Ironically, the ’15 Chiefs traveled to Houston and dominated the Texans 30-0.

Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard led the defense with 13 tackles, including five solos. Cornerback Kenny Moore II was credited with six tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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