The Colts, finally, made it to a resting place on the mountain they've been climbing non-stop for three full months.
Sunday's 31-0 thumping of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium was the last step before a much-needed opportunity to recharge for the season's final push.
"Thirteen straight weeks without a break is a long time," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Our bodies and our minds definitely appreciate a little time off."
The Colts didn't look beyond Sunday's trip to Houston and toward the mental and physical break awaiting them back in Indianapolis, though. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner set the tone early in the week: "We have to get through the Texans to get to the playoffs," he said.
And after Saturday's walkthrough, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton delivered a juiced-up speech to his team, reminding every player, coach and staff member present that taking an opponent lightly was not an option.
"TY said it best on Saturday — good teams play down to the level of their competition, but great teams dominate the whole game," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "(We) wanted to come out and completely dominate."
So the Colts, quite literally, dominated from start to finish. Kenny Moore II picked off Tyrod Taylor on the first play of the game, and a few hours later Deon Jackson punched in his first career touchdown to punctuate a 31-point dismantling of the 2-10 Texans. On aggregate, the Colts beat the Texans by a score of 62-3 in the 2021 season.
In between, the Colts' offense pounded the run – Jonathan Taylor carried 32 times, tying a season high – and, while it may not have been flashy, played the kind of complementary football needed to win a game 31-0. When the Colts did punt, Rigoberto Sanchez stuck the Texans deep in their own territory – one with the help of do-it-all special teams ace Ashton Dulin.
And then the Colts' defense went to work. The Texans didn't run a play in Colts territory until there were 50 seconds left in the third quarter. The farthest Houston's offense made it was the Colts' 40-yard line (for one play in the fourth quarter).
The Texans did not run a single play from the Colts' 39-yard line or closer; the Colts earned their first road shutout since 1992.
"(It was an) epic defensive performance from start to finish," head coach Frank Reich said.
This was the kind of comprehensive victory Hilton and the Colts wanted — all three phases playing at a high level, and not down to the level of a Texans team that's in the hunt for 2022's No. 1 overall pick.
A Texans, team, though, that knocked off Tennessee, 22-13, just two weeks ago.
"We knew this team had beaten the Titans," Reich said. "We have respect for this team. It's a division game. And our guys got ready to play."
So the Colts head into the bye week at 7-6 knowing a difficult climb still lies ahead to make the playoffs. But wins like this one help build confidence and momentum — 31-0 doesn't happen by accident, no matter the opponent. That's the kind of result that happens when a team is fully locked in for December football and treats every game like it's a playoff game.
Because, effectively, every game is just that at this point. The Colts know their margin for error in an erratic AFC playoff race is slim. And they know what lies on the other side of the bye week — primetime Saturday games against two of the best teams in football in the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.
"If we want to go to the playoffs and go where we want to go," running back Nyheim Hines said, "we have to beat and play with teams like that."
The Colts finish the 2021 season with that primetime home game against the New England Patriots, then a Christmas night trip to Arizona to face the Cardinals, then a home game against the Las Vegas Raiders before finishing the season against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. But first, the Colts will get a little rest.
And then the climb begins again with the summit in sight, but a challenging path to get there ahead.
"When it's December, everything kind of feels like a playoff game," Wentz said. "And we know what's at stake, we know where we're at and who's coming in and all those things.
"But once it's December, it's go time."