INDIANAPOLIS – Breathe, Colts fans.
This season is extending at least one more week after the Colts got the gift they needed, and then held on to do their part in beating the Jaguars 28-14 on Sunday afternoon.
What was learned from the Colts (11-5) making the postseason in Week 17?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Ticket Punched: It’s the first goal for any NFL team. And the Colts have checked that box after missing out last season. Thanks to the Bills thrashing the Dolphins on Sunday, the Colts knew at kickoff of their 4:25 PM matchup that a win over the worst team in the NFL would be enough to get them into the postseason. For the vast majority of Sunday’s first half, the Colts looked like a team that was playing for its playoff lives against a team that had lost 14 straight, and will be drafting No. 1 overall. Leading 20-0, the Colts let off the gas pedal and made this second half far more nerve wracking than it needed to be. We will discuss more of that below, but let’s focus here on the bigger picture 2020 goal accomplished on Sunday and that was making the postseason. In a wild season that had so many variables involved, the Colts trudged through it all, finishing 11-5. No matter the strength of schedule, winning 11 games in this league is not easy. The Colts needed help to get into the playoffs, but they also put themselves into a position where if that help occurred, they would be there to take that gift and do something with it.
2. Wisconsin JT: In one of the greatest individual performance this franchise has ever seen, the Colts rode Jonathan Taylor to clinching that playoff berth. Taylor carried the ball 30 times for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns on Sunday. That was a franchise-record 253 yards for Taylor, who averaged 8.4 yards per carry. We’ve stressed the need for the Colts to lean on Taylor down the stretch and, for the most part, they did that on Sunday. Taylor was the ‘beast’ that Frank Reich referred to him as, looking like the running back who broke virtually every important Big Ten rushing record at Wisconsin. Taylor hit some roadblocks in this rookie season, but credit his work ethic and character for overcoming those and becoming one of the best runners in the NFL entering the postseason. It’s the confidence, vision and calmness to the running style of Taylor that has the Colts rightfully feeling really good about their lead back right now. For the Colts to do something next weekend, or further, Taylor needs to continue to be the flat out stud he’s been since the second half of the Green Bay game. Some of the cuts that Taylor is making right now look like an established All-Pro running back. He’s playing at that level, as he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season, thanks to Sunday’s historic outing.
3. Consistency The Question: In going 4-1 to close out the season, the Colts have not showed anywhere near the consistency needed, over the course of 60 minutes, to win a playoff game. That was apparent again on Sunday. Up 20-0 over the Jaguars, the Colts looked like a team that would pummel the worst team in the NFL. But then the defense allowed Mike Glennon to complete 13 straight passes and the offense had 6 straight scoreless drives, with Philip Rivers looking the shakiest we’ve seen him in quite some time. In Sunday’s second half, Jacksonville actually had the ball on 4 straight drives with the chance to take the lead. But, luckily for the Colts, the defense defended long fields enough and Jonathan Taylor was wearing a blue No. 28 jersey. The embarrassment of blowing such a lead, and missing the playoffs, would have been beyond brutal. You can’t have 7 straight third-down fails against the Bills, kick field goals twice inside the 10-yard line or allow 13 straight completions. A consistent product of football from the Colts that can win in January hasn’t been there in a while. That’s an honest, and fair, critique, and even something Frank Reich knows has to change.
4. Necessary Step: As Philip Rivers said after Sunday’s berth was clinched, there are a lot of teams starting their offseason this week. Yes, the Colts needed help on Sunday, needed an extra playoff spot in 2020 and have now gone 6 straight seasons without winning the AFC South. But they still took a step this season that was needed—making the postseason without Andrew Luck under center. That hadn’t been done in a decade. This franchise has to move forward from those days and prove that they can make the playoffs without a generational talent at quarterback. You don’t trade the No. 13 overall pick and pay a QB $25 million for one year to finish outside of the playoffs. Guys like Jonathan Taylor, Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson, Julian Blackmon, etc. need to taste what the postseason is all about. No matter the plan at quarterback for 2021 and beyond, those are some of the guys that this franchise will lean on to achieve that goal of sustained success. One other note Rivers mentioned on Sunday: he feels the lack of fans (less than 7,000 in Buffalo) this postseason allows for a road team to possibly get on a run. Even if the Colts can’t put that together, anything short of missing the playoffs this year would have been a disappointment, even with going 11-5. They needed to get in and experience more real January football.
5. Trip To Buffalo Awaits: They gave the Colts the gift that was needed, and now they are seeing them in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. It’s the explosive Bills hosting the Colts next weekend. The Bills (13-3) have won 9 of their last 10 games, with the only loss coming on a Hail Mary to the Cardinals. Of those 9 wins, only 1 was by fewer than 8 points. Josh Allen had an MVP-type season and Stefon Diggs is one of the best wideouts in the league. The offense is diverse in their pre-snap looks and relies on Allen’s big-time arm and ability outside of the pocket. Defensively, the Bills are 27th in yards per carry allowed this season and aren’t really elite in any categories. It’s going to be a stiff test for the Colts, as they are an early 7-point underdog. And if the Colts win, a trip to Kansas City is up next in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Here is the entire AFC playoff picture.
–Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: CB-Rock Ya-Sin (concussion), S-Khari Willis (concussion), OT-Will Holden (ankle), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-DeMichael Harris, TE-Noah Togiai, DE-Ben Banogu
–Key Stat: DeForest Buckner had 2 sacks on Sunday, giving him a franchise-best 9.5 sacks for a defensive tackle.
-What’s Next: The Colts (11-5) are the 7th seed in the AFC playoffs and will head to Buffalo next Saturday to take on the No. 2 Bills (13-3) at 1:05 PM.