Alexa

Colts' adaptability could be key attribute for playoff run

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) escapes from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) in the first half of an NFL footb...
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) goes over Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) for a touchdown in the second half of...
Indianapolis Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (3) celebrates a 53-yard field goal with long snapper Luke Rhodes (46) in the second half of an NFL foot...
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) celebrates a touchdown with center Ryan Kelly (78) in the second half of an NFL football game agains...
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) goes over Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) for a touchdown in the second half of...
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) celebrates a catch for 41-yards against the Houston Texans in the second half of an NFL football gam...
Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee (16) fumbles the ball as he runs in the final minute of the second half against the Indianapolis Colts of an ...
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws against the Houston Texans in the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday,...

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) escapes from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) in the first half of an NFL footb...

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) goes over Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) for a touchdown in the second half of...

Indianapolis Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (3) celebrates a 53-yard field goal with long snapper Luke Rhodes (46) in the second half of an NFL foot...

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) celebrates a touchdown with center Ryan Kelly (78) in the second half of an NFL football game agains...

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) goes over Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) for a touchdown in the second half of...

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) celebrates a catch for 41-yards against the Houston Texans in the second half of an NFL football gam...

Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee (16) fumbles the ball as he runs in the final minute of the second half against the Indianapolis Colts of an ...

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws against the Houston Texans in the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday,...

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Each week, it seems a different Indianapolis player makes the big play. Each week, it seems the Colts find a new winning script. And each week, players and coaches find themselves embracing one another’s successes.

It’s no act.

Coach Frank Reich and his players believe their ability to adapt to the ever-evolving circumstances this coronavirus-impacted season is a key reason they’re on the cusp of reaching the playoffs — and capable of making a deep postseason run.

“That’s why I always remind the guys to stay calm because it (a big play) is coming," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said after a 27-20 victory over Houston. “We always preach on the sideline it’s three-and-out or a takeaway and I always have the confidence in my guys to get the job done.”

Buckner certainly did his part Sunday for the Colts (10-4), making three sacks and forcing one fumble despite playing on a gimpy ankle that limited him to playing 51% of the snaps.

The supporting cast also played well.

Rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship hit the net on a season-long 53-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give Indy a 20-13 lead.

Philip Rivers took advantage of a coverage mismatch with a 41-yard pass to a wide-open T.Y. Hilton. That play set up a the tiebreaking 5-yard TD pass to Zach Pascal, his second score of the day.

Then linebacker Darius Leonard delivered the knockout punch when he jarred the ball loose from Keke Coutee at the 2-yard line. Bobby Okereke recovered it in the end zone with 19 seconds left to seal the win.

And while fans cheered those players and plays, the bigger postgame celebration was reserved for a different kind of victory: getting punter Rigoberto Sanchez back less than three weeks after he had a cancerous tumor removed.

“That was awesome,” said Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 83 yards and one TD. “You saw everyone giving all the defense handshakes coming out and as Rigo was getting introduced, everyone was like ‘Come on, he’s here.’”

Reich has been working to instill this attitude for three seasons. Now that it has taken root, the Colts believe anything is possible as they try to clinch their second playoff appearance in six years.

“What I’m most excited about is in the fourth quarter of that game, when the game is on the line, we made plays in all three phases,” Reich said. “That’s what playing December football — that’s meaningful. That’s what it takes to continue to build the DNA and who we are and where we believe we are going.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Rivers. When the 17-year veteran changed teams in March, the critics thought Indy made a mistake. Instead, the 39-year-old quarterback has improved steadily. He’s thrown 17 TD passes and four interceptions in the last nine games, has five straight multi-TD games, and no interceptions in December.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Closing out games. While the Colts beat Houston twice in three weeks, they needed late turnovers inside the 5-yard line to seal both wins. Indy should have put away Sunday’s game early after taking a 14-0 lead. The Colts also needed an overtime turnover to beat Green Bay, a game they could have won in regulation.

STOCK UP

Sanchez. He was welcomed back with open arms by his teammates and coaches and the crowd of roughly 10,000 roared when he was introduced.

“He could have made a ton of excuses of why he couldn’t have been there, but he was there,” Taylor said. “He fought back and the fact that he came back so quickly, it just shows that his toughness is on another level.”

STOCK DOWN

RB Jordan Wilkins. Reich changes the backfield workload almost weekly. This time, it was Wilkins who saw his touches reduced. He logged just nine plays against the Texans, all on special teams.

INJURIES

Receiver Marcus Johnson left the game early with an injured quad and did not return. Reich said Monday that he had no update yet on Johnson.

KEY NUMBER

7 1/2 — Buckner, Denico Autry and 2014 NFL sacks champ Justin Houston all have 7 1/2 sacks this season. Only Indy and Pittsburgh have three players with that many sacks.

NEXT STEPS

The Colts are in solid playoff position. If they win both of their remaining games, at Pittsburgh and home against Jacksonville, they're in. And if they can snap a six-game losing streak against the Steelers, they could win their first AFC South title since 2014.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL


Updated : 2021-01-23 23:47 GMT+08:00