Colts offense? Whatever it takes (even 106 passing)

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – It was unique, but Frank Reich had been down a similar road.

His Indianapolis Colts firmly thrust themselves into the AFC playoff picture by bullying the Buffalo Bills Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. The offensive line imposed its will on the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense from the outset, and Jonathan Taylor did the rest.

The running attack slashed and pounded away 46 times for 264 yards, an NFL season high. Taylor injected himself into the MVP discussion by rushing a career-high 32 times for 185 yards and four touchdowns, and adding a 23-yard receiving TD. The five TDs were a franchise record.

“I had the day off,’’ Nyheim Hines said with a smile after the game. “I was his fan today.

“JT just wants to go out there and run the damn ball, and today we did that.’’

If Carson Wentz’s right arm was tired at game’s end, it was from the handoffs, not the 20 pass attempts. His 106 passing yards were a career low in a game he finished, and tied for the 3rd-fewest by a Colts QB in a win in the last two decades.

“I came in Monday morning feeling pretty good, which was nice,’’ Wentz said Wednesday.

He was hit on a few occasions – the Bills twice were slapped with roughing penalties – but the run-heavy nature of the game largely kept Wentz out of harm’s way. For the first time this season, he wasn’t sacked.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to do that, to win a game and not have a lot asked of you,’’ he said. “Obviously, just to turn around and give it to 2-8 and him just do his thing time and time again.

“Some people might say that was boring for me. I had a lot of fun back there.’’

Reich smiled when the uniqueness of the game was broached.

He had walked in Wentz’s cleats.

“I actually won a game as a starting quarterback with about 100 yards passing and I think we had about 280 rushing,’’ Reich said. “It was a long time ago.’’

It was Oct. 29, 1989 at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium. Starting quarterback Jim Kelly was out with an injury, so Marv Levy turned to his backup – Frank Reich – with the Miami Dolphins in town.

Reich was 6-for-9 for 123 yards, including a 63-yard TD to Steve Beebe, and a 146.8 rating. He leaned on Thurman Thomas (148 yards on 27 carries) and Larry Kinnebrew (125 on 21), and a run game that finished with 280 yards on 51 attempts.

The Bills rolled 31-17.

“It’s rare these days,’’ Reich said as his mind returned to the imbalanced blowout of the Bills. “It’s just rare.’’

However, the dominance of a Buffalo bunch that entered the game 6-3 and as the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture spoke volumes to the versatile nature of the Colts’ offense.

“Every game is different,’’ Wentz said. “Sometimes we’re going to have to throw for 400, sometimes we’re going to have to throw for 100.’’

That’s the encouraging aspect of the Wentz-led offense. It’s been able to adjust week-to-week and opponent-to-opponent.

There were Wentz’s career-best 402 passing yards and two TDs against Houston in week 6, six consecutive games with at least two TDs and 14 total during that stretch, and six games with at a 100-plus rating.

Wentz has had just two completions of at least 20 yards in the last two games, but there were 22 in the previous six.

And there have been occasions when it’s been Taylor, Hines and the run game.

Taylor leads the league in rushing (1,122 yards) and the run game ranks 4th in yards per game (147.9) and 2nd in yards per attempt (5.2).

Consider this. The Colts have produced the NFL’s two biggest days running the football: 264 against the Bills, 260 against the New York Jets in week 9. Both resounding wins.

And only two teams have won a game this season with 106 or fewer passing yards.

“It’s really important to me, to us,’’ Reich said. “I really think if you want to win it all, you have to be able to do that. There’s exceptions to that . . . but I think the best teams can win both ways. Then the third way is just with a dominant defensive performance.’’

Reich described the performance against the Bills “a statement.’’

“There’s not many teams in the NFL I don’t think (that) can win a game in that fashion,’’ he said. “So that’s a carrying card, if you will.

“But if that’s all you have, as good as Jonathan Taylor is, if that’s all we got, I mean it’s probably not going to be enough. That’s just not the way this game is. You have to be able to make plays in the passing game and thankfully I have a lot of confidence in our guys there. In our quarterback and in our skill guys.’’

That ability to adapt and do whatever is necessary should prove invaluable Sunday when Tampa Bay visits Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bucs bring a run defense ranked No. 1 in fewest yards per game allowed (78.4) and No. 3 in yards per attempt (3.8). They also should be buoyed by the return of 347-pound nose tackle Vita Vea.

“This will likely be a week where we have to do both,’’ Reich said. “We certainly are not planning on abandoning the run, but we also understand that at the end of the day, it will be a more balanced game than it was last week.’’

Whatever it takes.

That versatility, Wentz noted, is “important in this league because every single Sunday you’re going to get a different game plan from the defense. Sometimes you’ll have weather, be in a dome. You’re going to have lots of different factors.’’

The Colts clearly were committed to running the football against the Bills, but not necessarily to the extent it proved to be.

After one quarter, they led 14-0 because of balance: eight rushes, eight passes. But during that opening period, Wentz and Reich realized the type of afternoon it needed to be.

“We start to get a feel, ‘We can run the ball. Let’s keep doing it and doing it,’’’ Wentz said. “We’re moving guys up front and creating space and JT was doing his thing.

“To be able to do that within a game is important. Every week you kind of have an idea what you’re identity is going to be, but it’s usually that first quarter, those first couple of drives . . . ‘Let’s see what we can do, where we’re at.’ And then the rest is kind of predicated off of that.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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