Just like that, Jonathan Taylor finishes for Colts versus Patriots

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 18: Nyheim Hines #21 of the Indianapolis Colts rushes for a touchdown during the first quarter against the New England Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – It was something of an offensive eyesore, until it wasn’t.

There were anxious moments, until there weren’t.

Yet another double-digit lead against a quality opponent seemed to be slipping away, until it didn’t.

Indianapolis Colts 27, New England Patriots 17.

Allow Carson Wentz to explain a dramatic Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium after the Colts snapped their eight-game losing streak to the Patriots, which in turn snapped the Patriots’ NFL-best seven-game winning streak.

And, it must be mentioned, after one of those weird games that saw Wentz finish with more rushing attempts (eight) than pass completions (five).

“Even though it was sloppy and ugly at times,’’ he said, “for us to finish like that, for JT to break that one off, it was huge.”

“I knew we just needed a first down.’’

Jonathan Taylor got more. It took him about 12 seconds and 67 yards to turn ugly into a thing of beauty.

Second-and-eight at the Indy 33, 2 minutes, 11 seconds to play. A late Patriots’ rally trimmed a once-comfy 20-0 lead after three quarters to 20-17.

“There’s about 11 guys up and everyone in the building knew we were running that ball,’’ Wentz said. “But when you’ve got the best running back in the league . . . I think he’s able to make two guys miss in the hole.

“That’s just JT being JT and taking it to the house. No one’s going to catch him.’’

No one did.

Not after Taylor took a handoff from Wentz, headed into a sizable hole between center Danny Pinter and left guard Quenton Nelson, slashed to his right, and ran through the tackle attempt of linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Cornerback J.C. Jackson offered futile pursuit as Taylor clinched things with a 67-yard touchdown and set a franchise record with his 17th rushing TD.

It was Taylor’s 29th rushing attempt, and pushed his total to 170. The Colts would finish with 39 attempts and 226 yards, the fourth time in six games they’ve breached the 200-yard level.

Until the long-distance dagger, though, Taylor’s longest run was a 12-yarder. Much of the night, it was a steady dose of 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-yarders with minus-2 thrown in.

Despite some difficult patches, coach/play caller Frank Reich stuck with his offense’s strength against a defense hell-bent on stopping the run.

“They’re so well-coached,’’ he said. “What I have seen over and over again is if you can just keep pounding ‘em and pounding ‘em with the offensive line we have and the backs we have . . . it just breaks. It just takes one guy on defense to get in the wrong gap.’’

Taylor nearly didn’t get the opportunity to break the Patriots’ back. Reich nearly dialed up a pass for Wentz.

“I almost called a pass, feeling like we’ve got to make a first down here,’’ he said. “I said, ‘No, I’m going to call one more run.’

“And it just popped.’’

Wait, there’s more. Reich typically goes to his ‘church mode’ in that situation in case a player breaks into the open field and it makes more sense for him to slide short of the goal line.

The coaches in the booth, Reich said, “told me a second too late that we should be in ‘church mode.’’’

As Taylor trotted back to the bench following his TD, the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd serenaded him.

MVP. MVP. MVP.

“They do that all the time,’’ he said. “The only thing I’m thinking about is making sure we’ve got one more point than the opponent when that clock hits zero.’’

He was just as understated when rehashing his closing lightning bolt.

“Just being able to break a defender down . . . and then being able to finish,’’ he said. “Just got to accept the challenge. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”

“Nothing is going to be given, everything is going to be earned, so you just got to play four quarters.’’

Those four quarters had a little bit of everything. Such as:

  • As we mentioned, Wentz enduring the least productive game of his NFL career. He had never had fewer completions (five), attempts (12) or yards (57) in a game he finished.

Could he remember winning a game with such a stat line?

“Probably high school?’’ he asked.

The five completions are tied for the 3rd-fewest in franchise history in a win, and the fewest since 1974. The 57 yards are the 7th-fewest in a win, and the fewest since 1995.

  • The offense finished with 275 yards, its fewest since 265 in the week 3 loss at Tennessee. It converted just 2-of-10 third-down situations, but was 3-for-3 on fourth down as Reich remained aggressive.
  • Special teams again reared its head. Late in the first quarter, linebacker Matthew Adams made a diving block of Jake Bailey’s punt and linebacker E.J. Speed covered it in the end zone. That’s two TDs for Speed on blocked punts.
  • Michael Badgley missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt, but converted 25- and 41-yarders. The latter one came after he missed a 46-yard attempt that was erased when the Patriots were offside.
  • The defense yielded 365 yards and gave up a pair of Mac Jones-to-Hunter Henry touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, but made enough plays that made a difference.

Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke generated interceptions and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner had 1 sack. Leonard finished with a game-high 10 tackles and one forced fumble to go along with his interception.

It was quite a night. The victory was the Colts’ seventh in nine games and nudged them to 8-6 and onto the No. 5 rung in the AFC seedings.

“It’s December football and at the end of the day, all you want is a win,’’ Wentz said. “Whatever that looks like, who cares? Who cares what the stat line is? That’s what I love about this team. Everyone is just selling out to win.”

“I don’t think I’ve thrown the ball 12 times in a very long time in a game, but that’s fine. At the end of the day, all I care about is that final score.’’

The victory over the Patriots was the Colts’ first since 2009, and Reich awarded owner Jim Irsay a game ball in a joyous locker room.

“We gave Mr. Irsay a game ball because it does mean a lot and as the owner, he’s been behind us. He does whatever it takes.’’

Finally, the Colts protected a double-digit lead against a top-level opponent.

“Yeah, it means a lot,’’ Reich said. “I’m more worried about this team and where we’re going and how we started the year not winning these games against these kinds of teams, and now we’ve won two out of three against the Bills, lost to Tampa and now beat this team.

“Feel good about that, but we still got to get better.’’

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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