KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not many nationally gave them a chance, but that didn’t matter. The Indianapolis Colts had confidence in themselves.
On the road Sunday night in front of a nationally televised audience, the Colts pulled off an improbable victory as 11-point underdogs in their 19-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Specifically, the Colts’ defense was up for the challenge of facing the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, Patrick Mahomes, and his Chiefs offense that was tied for the top spot in scoring (33.8 PPG) and second in yards per game (474.8 YPG) entering Sunday's game.
The Colts held Kansas City well below those averages on Sunday night as the Chiefs compiled just 324 yards (their lowest since Week 15 of 2018) and 13 points (lowest since Week 12 of 2017).
The Chiefs were also in the midst of an NFL-record 25 consecutive games having scored at least 25 points leading into Sunday night’s game.
That streak, thanks to the Colts, is no more.
“Starting on Wednesday, with the way we practiced, it was by far our best week of practice since we’ve been here,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “And (it was) particularly good on defense. It was good on all three phases, but particularly on defense. Coming into this place against that offense to do what our defense did today was unreal. So that’s a real credit to our defensive players. ‘Flus (Matt Eberflus) and the defensive coaches did an unbelievable job.”
The Colts (3-2) held the previously-undefeated Chiefs (4-1) to just 4-of-12 on third down (33.3 percent), 1-of-3 in the red zone (33.3 percent), sacked Mahomes four times, and forced and recovered one fumble. They nearly added another takeaway to their total, but a booth review overturned what would have been rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke’s first career interception.
Keeping the Chiefs' passing attack in check — especially in the second half — was certainly notable, but the Colts' defense also ensured the Chiefs weren't able to find other ways to beat them. Known for their potent air attack, the Chiefs have had some success running the ball this season, rushing for more than 100 yards in three of their first four games.
But the Colts on Sunday night held Kansas City to just 36 yards rushing on 14 carries (2.6 avg).
“'Flus (defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) did an unbelievable job with the game plan," Reich said. "Obviously the players played unbelievable. We put pressure on them with four, and we affected the quarterback. He still made some amazing plays — he made a couple amazing plays — but we never lost our poise.
"Thought ‘Flus did a great job there. No one lost our poise, the defense stayed with it, and we put them behind the sticks a few times and that really played to our advantage. And we just got after ‘em up front.”
“NEXT MEN UP,” YOUTH COME UP BIG
The Colts entered this game banged up on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense, with starting All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, both starting safeties — Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker — as well as key rotational lineman Tyquan Lewis all ruled out heading into this game.
That obviously meant a heavy dose of depth players, particularly rookies and second-year guys, having to answer the call and be the “next men up" against the top offense in the league.
The Colts had some new looks on the defense, with rookies Okereke, Khari Willis and Rock Ya-Sin all starting while guys like Quincy Wilson — at safety — and undrafted rookie Shakial Taylor played a little more than what was likely originally planned, especially after the team's top two corners, Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore II, each went down early in the game with injuries.
“I tell you what, it’s a credit to the whole defense there. There was a moment there in the first half where we had three DBs hurt, and ‘Flus was on the sideline talking to the guys in the headset about to devise a whole new gameplan on the fly on the sideline right there ‘cause we weren’t gonna be able to do a whole bunch of the things we were planning on because of the personnel,” Reich said. “And then Pierre (Desir) came back and we got a few guys back, Kenny (Moore II) came back. So, thankfully that worked out and they played great, but those guys did step up and played well.”
Even as the Colts reached deep into the depth chart, especially in the secondary, the defense remained confident in the 11 guys they put on the field.
“We’re real confident in our DBs," said Okereke, who had three tackles and a fumble recovery. "We played a lot of man and they kind of locked down well. And then in all the two-high stuff, we executed well, (We) primarily stopped the run, I think they had 30, 40 rushing yards or something like that, so you stop the run, you make them one-dimensional and it makes it easier for us.”
The defensive effort Sunday night was very much appreciated on the other side of the ball for the Colts. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett helped lead an offensive attack that certainly took care of business — Indy ran the ball for 180 yards — but, combined with the defensive effort, the Colts dominated the time of possession Sunday night, 37:15 to 22:45.
"Oh my gosh — that’s awesome. You know, you can’t ask for a better job," Brissett said of the Colts' defense. "The whole group. I know we had a lot of players playing that aren’t used to playing, and everybody just stepped up and played a hell of a game. I know us offensively tip our hats off to those guys. And … we played a full complementary game. Obviously you want to score every drive, but we did enough to win today."
After spending the first eight years of his career with the Chiefs, the team decided to part ways with veteran edge defender Justin Houston this offseason. The Colts were the benefactors of this move, as the veteran chose Indianapolis as his new home.
Just five weeks into the season and he’d already get his shot at redemption, and Houston made the game count with a sack and a fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter that damaged the Chiefs' comeback bid and essentially sealed the win for the Colts.
Down 16-10 with just more than five minutes remaining in the game, and backed up at their own 34-yard line, Mahomes handed the ball off to running back Damien Williams, who was quickly met in the backfield on the left side by Houston and brought down for a loss of a yard. The Colts would take over on that ensuing drive and put their final points on the board with Adam Vinatieri's fourth field goal of the night.
“It was huge,” Reich said of Houston’s performance. “I mean, even before the game as we break and he was all fired up, he had the whole team goin’, gets the sack, great pressure all day, makes the fourth down stop. I mean, those are massive plays. He is such a great player and such a good leader and such a good person — obviously I’m happy for all of us — I’m especially happy (for Justin). You love it when a guy does it the right way like Justin does it and then he gets rewarded with this win as a team and then he played great on top of it.”
Houston was officially credited with four tackles and a sack on Sunday, his second of the season.
"I'd be lying to say there wasn't (extra motivation)," Houston said after the game. "That’s just like your old girlfriend — you get a new girlfriend, you wanna show off."