Colts Overcome Adversity To Beat Cardinals, Move Closer To Spot In AFC Playoffs

The Colts' 22-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals came under extraordinary circumstances – and strengthened this team's grip on not only a spot in the playoffs, but the AFC No. 5 seed. 

Dezmon Patmon

By the end of the first half of Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Colts were tasked with overcoming:

  • Missing seven players who were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in the past week: Right guard Mark Glowinski, linebacker Darius Leonard, left guard Quenton Nelson, wide receiver Zach Pascal, defensive end Kemoko Turay, safety Khari Willis and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin;
  • The absence of center Ryan Kelly, who with the complete support of the Colts remains out after the tragic loss of his unborn daughter;
  • And injuries to safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion), tight end Jack Doyle (ankle/knee) and left tackle Eric Fisher (knee).

That's three Pro Bowlers (Leonard, Nelson, Kelly), 10 starters (Glowinski, Leonard, Nelson, Pascal, Willis, Ya-Sin, Kelly, Sendejo, Doyle, Fisher) and the team's second-leading sack-getter (Turay).

The Colts won anyways, adversity be damned. The result was a resolute 22-16 win over the Cardinals on Christmas night at State Farm Stadium.

"I think this is one of the best team wins I've ever been a part of considering all of the circumstances," Reich said.

This was the kind of win that put the strength of the entire Colts organization on display.

Reich gave a game ball to general manager Chris Ballard, recognizing the work put in by him and his front office to acquire all the next men up who played so well on Saturday. Guys like guard Chris Reed, guard/tackle Matt Pryor and safety Jahleel Addae were brought in via offseason free agency (Reed), a cut-down day trade (Pryor) and the in-season free agent market (Addae).

The Colts saw meaningful contributions from guys like wide receiver Dezmon Patmon, defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo, center Danny Pinter, linebacker E.J. Speed and cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, which flexed the muscles of their amateur scouting department. All of those guys except Odeyingbo were Day 3 picks by Ballard and the Colts' amateur scouting department.

"When you get a day like this, and you need everybody on the roster, you thank the man who put it together," Reich said.

And from a coaching standpoint, the high-velocity unpredictability of COVID-19 and in-game injuries challenged every single member of Reich's staff. Reich said the depth chart special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone handed him Saturday was "a complete turnaround" from where it usually would be, with guys elevated not only from the practice squad but from their usual roles on Ventrone's 'teams units.

Pryor played his first game at guard with the Colts (he previously played there with the Eagles) while Speed blew past his career high snap total – he played 65 snaps on Saturday, easily topping his prior career high of 28.

The Colts didn't know they would need Pryor until placing Nelson on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Friday; they didn't know they had a need for Speed until Saturday afternoon.

"Gutsy win," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Gutsy win in all three phases. We woke up this morning and found out more guys were sick and missing, tweaking the game plan this morning. The coaches did a great job to put us in the best position to succeed, and obviously, it was an up and down game. But for us to finish the way we did, that was huge."

Perhaps most impressively, the Colts – missing 80 percent of their starting offensive line and, for all but two snaps of the game, their top run blocking tight end – still got a 108-yard game out of Jonathan Taylor (they're now 9-0 this season when Taylor rushes for over 100 yards). Through the air, Reich, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and Wentz found solutions to kick-start a sterling late-game showing from their quarterback, who finished 18/28 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Again: This was with an offensive line that, at one point in the game, was down to one reserve – practice squad call-up Carter O'Donnell – when Reed exited with a back issue.

"It was just a battle of attrition," Reed said. "Basically just kind of wearing them down and getting a run here, getting a run there, getting a big pass. So kind of just keeping on calling what we call and playing how we play and I think that worked out in the end."

From an offensive standpoint, to be down four of five O-line starters and still feel confident in "calling what we call and playing how we play" is indicative of how well this team was built, how well this team is coached and how well this team can play.

And then there's the Colts' defense.

The Cardinals entered Week 16 fourth in the NFL with an average of 7.6 yards per pass; the Colts' held Kyler Murray to a season-low 5.7 yards per attempt. The Colts' tackling on Murray's completions was fantastic; running back Chase Edmonds was limited to 3.5 yards per attempt. And the Colts' defense came up with a handful of big stops, including two on fourth down.

"When you get a chance to come together and show how much depth is on the roster, like how much work the depth on the roster puts in throughout the year, it's always a blessing," Speed said. "And we had a great team win."

The 9-6 Colts will enter Week 17 as the AFC No. 5 seed regardless of any of Sunday's results. They haven't clinched a playoff spot yet but, according to FiveThirtyEight, have a 98 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

And if Week 15's win over the New England Patriots was a showcase of the top-end talent the Colts have, Week 16 was a showcase of their depth. Great teams need both top-end talent and depth to become contenders late in the season. In consecutive weeks, against consecutive first-place teams, the Colts proved they have both.

"Early on in the season, we knew the type of team that we had, the depth that we had," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "We just came up short with some plays late in the fourth quarter early in the season and guys are finally making those plays. ... You can see the confidence that our guys are playing with.

"And we've been preaching since we got back from the bye, it's playoff football. And the past two weeks definitely felt that way."

See all the action on the field at State Farm Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16.

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