In need of bounce-back game, Colts lean on Jonathan Taylor, explosive offense

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts’ Jonathan Taylor (28) runs against New York Jets’ Bryce Hall (37) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Three hours of primetime delight – at home, no less – didn’t make up for previous indiscretions or make everyone forget the defense has serious issues.

And there was a curious and unsuccessful first-and-goal that failed to reach the end zone despite three shots inside the 5.

But this is no time to dwell on the negatives.

Not after Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Carson Wentz and the offense en masse left footprints – or in the case of Taylor and Hines, burn marks – all over the New York Jets.

Colts 45, Jets 30.

Just to get it out of the way, the offensive masterpiece didn’t erase the collapse in Baltimore or atone for failing to close the deal in overtime four days earlier against the Tennessee Titans.

All it did on the grand scale was push the Colts to 4-5 and keep their pulse semi-vibrant in pursuit of an AFC playoff berth. They’ve got 10 days to rest up before entertaining the 1-6 Jacksonville Jaguars.

But again, let’s not brood over opportunities wasted and double-digit leads squandered.

Let’s talk about those three hours of offensive exuberance at Lucas Oil Stadium and on Thursday night’s primetime stage.

“Encouraged the way we came out,’’ said Wentz after directing a crisp and balanced offense to touchdowns on all four of the team’s first half possessions. “Coming on a short week, lot of emotion obviously from last week and to come out swinging the way we did, that was encouraging.’’

Detect a theme?

In desperate need of a bounce-back performance with the 34-31 overtime loss to the Titans still fresh, the Colts got it.

“It’s good to come out here and get a victory,’’ linebacker Darius Leonard said. “We still have some stuff to clean up, but it’s always fun to leave this thing with a W.’’

“That was huge, especially on a short week,’’ Taylor said, adding the short week “kind of forced us. You’ve got to come in right back to work.

“It was set up perfectly: primetime game, home.

“It was set up perfect for us to kind of come in here and bounce back from that loss.’’

The Colts led 28-10 at the half and 42-10 at the 6-minute mark of the third quarter. What was missing – again – was a knockout punch. The Jets closed the game on a 20-3 run behind Josh Johnson’s 317 yards and three touchdowns.

“What we just talked about in there is, ‘Hey, we’re happy we played well on a short week, but in all three phases we need to finish better,’’’ Frank Reich said.

Added Wentz: “We’ve got to continue to emphasize finishing a little bit better, but I’m so encouraged by what I’m seeing offensively and how we’re able to move the ball in so many different ways.’’

Let’s count the ways:

  • The Colts finished with 532 total yards, the 10th best total in franchise history and the 6th best in the Indy era. The balance was impressive – 272 passing, 260 rushing – and unique. According to NFL Research, it was just the second time in club history the Colts had at least 250 yards passing and rushing in the same game (week 9 of 1956 against the Los Angeles Rams.)
  • The offense scored at least 30 points in a fourth straight game for the first time since 2010. The 45 points are the most in the Reich era and the most since a 49-point outburst in week 13 of 2014.
  • Wentz’s bounce-back evening from his two crippling interceptions against the Titans consisted of 272 yards, touchdowns to wideout Michael Pittman Jr. (11 yards), tight end Jack Doyle (1 yard) and backup offensive lineman Danny Pinter (2 yards) and a career-high 134.3 rating.

“He’s been playing a lot of good football this year,’’ Reich said. “He had a couple of things at the end of the last game. He was flawless today.

“He was stinkin’ flawless.’’

  • The running game percolated for 260 yards, the most in the NFL this season and the 6th highest total in the Indy era. Taylor was the ringleader with a season-high 172 yards on 19 carries, but Hines was hardly an afterthought with 74 yards on just six carries.

Taylor notched a 21-yard TD in the second quarter then broke off a 78-yarder in the third period. On the latter, he showed patience while the hole over the right side widened, then used his sprinter’s to run away from the Jets’ pursuit.

“You saw the hole,’’ Taylor said. “When you get a hole like that, you’ve got to take it the distance. The o-line has been working their tails off all year.’’

 Hines? He got things going with a 34-yard TD on the Colts’ opening drive. He headed right, reversed his field, skirted the left edge and, like Taylor, left the Jets in his wake.

It was the longest run of Hines’ career.

Such a robust running attack made Wentz’s job so much easier.

“One hundred percent. One hundred percent,’’ he said. “When I can turn around . . . one-play drive . . . I think JT took it 75 or something like that. That’s the best drive in football for a quarterback when you can just turn around and give it to a guy.’’

Taylor and Hines, Wentz added, “played unbelievable. The big guys up front, I don’t think JT got touched on the long run.’’

  • The running game averaged a franchise-record 8.67 yards per attempt.
  • The offense generated eight plays that chewed up at least 20 yards, including three that went for more than 31.
  • The passing game hit the Jets from every angle imaginable. Wentz distributed his 22 completions to 10 players, and seven had at least 27 yards. Pittman once again led the way with five catches, 64 yards and the TD on six targets.

The offense was unstoppable until a first-and-goal at the 7 on the opening drive of the second half ended with Taylor taking a direct snap and running into a wall of Jets for 1 yard. He needed 2.

Still, Wentz led the Colts to TDs on six of their first seven possessions. They ran 39 plays and came away with 408 yards.

“You could just feel it early,’’ Reich said. “You could just feel us dominating the line of scrimmage early. I could feel that. We were just efficient.’’

The offensive efficiency was more than enough to compensate for the defense’s lackluster evening.

After the Colts settled into the 42-10 lead, the Jets scored three consecutive touchdowns – drives of 75, 66 and 80 yards – and had an 83-yard possession end when Bobby Okereke intercepted a tipped Johnson pass.

Johnson was in the game because Mike White suffered an injury to his right forearm in the first quarter. The biggest mark against the Colts’ defense was allowing White and Johnson to pass for 412 yards and four TDs.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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