Colts use rash at Buffalo to prove playoff-ready

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Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) dives into the end zone during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Orchard Park, NY on Sunday, November 21 2021. (AP Photo / Adrian Kraus)

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The Indianapolis Colts sent a loud and clear message to the NFL on Sunday.

They are tested and ready for the playoffs.

After starting 1-4, the Colts made their return to the playoff conversation by winning five of six. And on a blustery and rainy day in Buffalo, Indianapolis provided an emphatic response to critics who questioned its ability to beat a legitimate contender by routing last year’s AFC finalists 41-15. – their first victory in six games against teams in the 2020 playoffs.

Now, the playoff talk is no longer just gossip.

“If we’re going to get to where we want to go at the end of the year, we’ll have to put games aside in the fourth quarter,” said running back Jonathan Taylor after scoring five touchdowns, a franchise record. “We’re going to have to score some points. We’re going to have to play good defense.”

The Colts (6-5) fought to come back by pulling off both.

Taylor quickly became the top contender to dethrone two-time defending NFL champion Derrick Henry, who remains out after foot surgery. The Colts second-year fullback passed 100 yards in the scrum and scored a touchdown in an NFL record, tying eight straight games. Taylor beat the Bills’ best defense for 185 yards on 34 carries before a well-deserved early exit.

While Taylor provided the offensive punch, Indy’s improved defense took care of the rest.

Forcing four turnovers and limiting Buffalo’s powerful offense to 221 yards and a three-quarter touchdown, the Bills’ ground game never started. He’s a screenplay coach that Frank Reich, one of the league’s best returning artists, believes with all his heart.

He’s seen it work when Indy bounced back from a 1-5 start to advance to the playoffs in 2018, and also when he led Buffalo to the biggest comeback in NFL history against Houston in of the playoffs in January 1993.

And Reich feels it’s working again with a team suddenly clicking all cylinders.

“I could just feel guys, I could feel the energy, I could feel the focus. So that didn’t surprise me, “he said.” When you can run football it makes a huge difference. You still have to be able to make plays in the passing game and we made a few today that were important, but that’s the way to handle football.

WHAT WORKS

Indy’s offensive line. Taylor leads the NFL with 1,122 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns and 15 total touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He couldn’t produce those numbers without a strong offensive line, which is playing at its traditionally high level after a series of early-season injuries.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Tight contributions. It might be a tough point after a completely dominant game, but the Colts have relied so heavily on Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. recently, tight ends seem like a forgotten element in the passing game. Expect Reich to make it a focal point in the last six games.

STORE

Indy’s defense. While the game-changing turnover actually came during a kickoff comeback, this is a defensive takeaway. The Colts have taken the league lead in both turnover margin (plus-15) and take-home points (25) and at that rate of 2.27 per game, their stated goal of 40 digits of business is at your fingertips.

SOLD OUT

Rodrigo Blankenship. A hip injury put the kicker on the injured list after an overtime loss to Baltimore. Indy then signed Michael Badgley, who hasn’t missed a single kick in those six games. Reich made it clear last week that he would not rush Blankenship and intends, for now, to use Badgley.

INJURIES

For the second week in a row, the Colts came out of the game in relatively good health. The biggest concern was three-time All-Pro goaltender Quenton Nelson, who left in the fourth quarter after worsening an ankle injury. Reich said Nelson is seen from day to day.

KEY NUMBER

30 – Indy has scored at least 30 points in five of his last six games, including 41 against the league’s No.2 defense. Reich also scored 41 points on the scoreboard in this historic comeback against the Houston Oilers.

NEXT STEPS

After beating one of the last four teams of last season, the Colts face another with Tom Brady and reigning world champion Tampa Bay arriving in town. Brady has been very successful in Indianapolis over the course of his career, and Indy has to replicate Sunday’s performance to prove Buffalo’s victory was no fluke.

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