Colts in good spot (5-2) because they’re winning the close games

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 27: Adam Vinatieri #4 of the Indianapolis Colts pumps his fist after kicking the game winning field goal in the fourth quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They’re about to hit the midway point of the season, and they’re right where they want to be, right where they need to be.

And they’ve gotten there by heeding their leader’s weekly message.

Focus on and take care of the little things. Deal with any adversity and move on. Find a way, any way, to get the job done. The only thing that matters is the bottom line.

In the wake of Sunday’s at-the-wire win over the Denver Broncos and heading to Pittsburgh, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves looking down at the vast majority of the AFC. They’re 5-2 and atop the AFC South. Based on tiebreakers, they’re the conference’s No. 2 seed behind unbeaten New England.

Yes, it’s early. But it beats the alternative.

More to the point: the Colts are in this position because they’ve found ways to win close games. Historically so, as it turns out.

They’re the first team since 1940 to open a season 5-2 and have each of its games decided by 7 points or fewer. Only four teams have opened a season with at least eight games decided by 7 points or fewer, the most recent being the 2016 Detroit Lions.

Monday afternoon, Frank Reich described Sunday’s 15-13 nod over the Broncos as a “good, resilient win.’’ It was very much in doubt until Adam Vinatieri knocked down a 51-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining.

Then, Reich took it a step further.

“If we want to be a good team, we’ve gotta prove we can win games like that, not just every once in a while but win them consistently,’’ he said. “Feel good about our players. Feel good about our commitment to each other.

“Really just hanging in there, being able to win any type of game.’’

Consider the path taken during the three-game winning streak:

  •  The offense rolled up its sleeves and hammered Kansas City with 180 rushing yards, and the defense snapped the Chiefs’ NFL-best streak of 25 consecutive games with at least 25 points. It was a blue-collar 19-13 win at raucous Arrowhead Stadium.
  • Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni flipped the script against Houston. Jacoby Brissett earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week by throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, in a 30-23 win. The defense did its part, especially late, with Justin Houston snuffing out one drive with a sack and Darius Leonard sealing things with an interception.
  • Sunday, nothing came easily, but the Colts were celebrating in the locker room, music blaring, nonetheless. They were penalized 10 times for 103 yards, both season highs. Brissett lost a fumble, was sacked four times and finished with 202 yards. Vinatieri pushed a 45-yard field goal wide right on the opening drive and yanked a PAT wide left after Mack’s 10-yard run in the third quarter brought Indy within 13-12.

But.

The defense dominated after Denver opened the third quarter with Royce Freeman’s 4-yard touchdown run. The Broncos’ final six possessions: five punts and Ben Banogu coming up with a sack/strip/fumble of Joe Flacco as time ran out. Brissett used his strength and moxie to shed Von Miller’s sack/safety attempt and deliver a critical 35-yard completion to T.Y. Hilton that kick-started the final game-winning drive. And Vinatieri dropped the hammer with his 51-yarder.

They found a way, which has been the case with Reich at the controls. The Colts are a modest 9-6 in one-possession games since 2018, but they’ve won nine of the last 12.

They’ve dealt with the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck, Vinatieri’s early-season travails, and injuries that have sidelined a slew of front-liners – T.Y. Hilton, Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Jabaal Sheard, Devin Funchess. They’ve leaned heavily on their rookie class.

And here they are.

“I just think we have tough-minded players who have a mindset of figuring out how to play winning football and just believing in each other and believing in what we’re doing and trying to do the little things right,’’ Reich said. “One of the big points of emphasis that every team makes, but we really feel like we harp on a lot is all the situational football stuff.

“All the little things.’’

The offense ranks 10th in third-down efficiency and is tied-for-3rd in red-zone efficiency. Even with Sunday’s flag-fest, the Colts remain one of the NFL’s least-penalized teams (43 for 347 yards). Their seven turnovers are tied for 4th-fewest in the league.

“I think we’re doing for the most part those little things that you need to do to win close games,’’ Reich said. “That’s been a good formula for us, but we know this for sure: you can’t take that for granted any week against any opponent anywhere.’’

Trade deadline nears

The NFL’s trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. General manager Chris Ballard isn’t averse to wheelin’ and dealin’, but he covets draft picks. And that’s what it would take to acquire a player. However, no one should rule out Ballard trading away one of his own.

Reich said if Ballard has anything in the works, “he’ll be over here, and we will be talking about it. That’s why the situation we have here can’t be much better.

“The level of trust and how together we are on these things and on the roster . . . Chris and I have had multiple discussions on options out there, and he has let me know all the scenarios. 99% of the time . . . those things are just, ‘Here are the scenarios.’

“Probably nothing ever happens on most of those, but when he decides to make a move in a direction that we need to talk about more serious, then we will do so.’’

Willis update

The initial prognosis on Khari Willis’ foot injury is positive, according to Reich. The rookie safety suffered the injury against the Broncos and was ruled out in the third quarter.

“The preliminary reports seem to be positive, but you never know with these things,’’ Reich said. “You’ve got to give it a couple of days after the game to see how it responds.

“It doesn’t seem too bad.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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