INDIANAPOLIS – Early-season crisis averted.
Down 21 points in Sunday’s first half, things looked beyond bleak for the Indianapolis Colts. Led by the right arm of Philip Rivers though, the Colts got back in the game and completed the comeback in the second half.
What was learned from the Colts (4-2) beating the Cincinnati Bengals (1-4-1) by a score of 31-27 in Week Six?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. What A Comeback: You would have to do some searching to find a more disastrous first quarter from the Colts than the one we saw on Sunday. Down 21-0 early in the second quarter, the Colts were staring an ugly defeat right in the face against one of the league’s bottom feeders. Frank Reich accurately called it a ‘really bad’ start, which in Reich’s words means ‘horrific.’ But starting with the right arm of Philip Rivers, the Colts got back into the game, and then completed the comeback victory. We will critically evaluate this game, like always, but the Colts should be commended for orchestrating a 21-point comeback. That’s not easy—with no NFL team having done that since the Chiefs in Week 1 of the 2016 season—no matter the competition or time left in the game. A loss to a team who hasn’t won on the road in more than two years would have the Colts at 3-3 entering the bye, with a much tougher schedule waiting in November and December, and serious questions simmering.
2. Big Bounce Back By Philip Rivers: All week long as those continued to call for Philip Rivers to be benched (which was laughable), the thought for him to remain the starter centered around him giving the Colts a higher ceiling at quarterback than his backup, Jacoby Brissett. Sunday was a look into what Rivers can offer this team. When the Colts were down 21-0, .0001 percent of the blame should have been on Rivers at that point. Frank Reich decided at that point of the game it was time to put more on Rivers’ plate and it was the 17-year vet who did the heaviest lifting in this comeback. Rivers finished the game 29-of-44 for 371 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT. His ball placement was outstanding throughout the Colts clawing back into the game. With the offensive line protecting Rivers well, the veteran QB bounced back in a big way, despite another week with an inconsistent rushing attack. After the win, Reich said Rivers ‘carried us.’ That’s definitely true. The Colts finished Sunday 7-of-11 on third down and 4-of-4 in the red zone—two big areas this offense had been failing in. Could Rivers and the Colts produce a comeback victory? They did that on Sunday. It’s a positive step in the right direction, while acknowledging that the competition seen on Sunday will also be drafting very early come April.
3. Defensive Regression: At one point on Sunday, the Colts were in a stretch of giving up scores on 8 straight first-half drives. Yes, the defense played a big role in completing this comeback, but we can’t overlook the struggles we’ve seen in the first halves the last two weeks. The defense we’ve seen for half of the last two games won’t get it done in January. Entering Sunday, the Bengals had scored 13 points in the first quarter all season (5 games). They put up 14 points in the first on Sunday, while on the doorstep of another touchdown. The struggles with rush and cover in the first half finally started to turn in the second half—no more so than the pressure on Joe Burrow leading to an earlier throw which rookie Julian Blackmon hauled in to seal the game and add to the rookie’s highlight reel. Sunday was another reminder that the historic defensive start we saw from the Colts was an outlier. As the Colts approach the mid-way point of the season, this defense has done a really nice job with in-game adjustments. But some consistency is needed to avoid these 20 and 24-point first halves they’ve allowed the past two weeks.
4. Trey Burton, Marcus Johnson Step Up: Frank Reich’s past history with Trey Burton and Marcus Johnson certainly are reasons why they are with the Colts right now. Sunday was a look into why Reich remains intrigued by these two guys. Both stepped up in big ways on Sunday. A finally healthy Johnson again sparked the offense with big plays, hauling in 5 catches for 108 yards. At tight end, sans Mo Alie-Cox (knee), the versatile Burton was key in the red zone, scoring on a Wildcat run and making a diving catch for another touchdown. Burton was a guy that Philip Rivers loved targeting in camp and he was thought to be a needed red zone piece. With the Colts struggling in that part of the field, Burton delivered there on Sunday. As the Colts have had so much inconsistency with production and injuries with their frontline pass catching options this season, they’ve needed guys further down on the depth chart to step up. No. 80 and No. 83 did just that in aiding this comeback.
5. In Playoff Position At Bye: After a wild week, the Colts now enter their bye with a 4-2 record. Considering the ease of their schedule so far (which has been the easiest in the NFL through six weeks), 4-2 is the bottom of the bar record wise of where the Colts needed to be at their bye, knowing what is waiting in the second half of the year (Baltimore, Green Bay, Tennessee x2, Pittsburgh, etc.). With the Titans (5-0) still undefeated, any run at the AFC South is going to be difficult. However, with 3 Wild Card spots available this year, the Colts are right in the thick of competing for one of those postseason berths. Through six games, saying the Colts are a threat to do damage in the month of January would definitely be premature. But getting there is the most important step. And the Colts have positioned themselves for that, even though the schedule is going to stiffen big time the rest of the way.
–Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: TE-Mo Alie-Cox (groin), LB-Darius Leonard (groin), OT-Chaz Green (back) QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DE-Ron’Dell Carter, WR-Reece Fountain.
–Key Stat: Sunday was the largest home comeback victory in Colts franchise history. It was the longest comeback for the Colts since the famous Monday Night Football one in Tampa Bay during the 2003 season.
–What’s Next: The Colts (4-2) are headed for their bye in Week 7. When they return from it, a trip to take on the Lions (2-3) awaits.