Everything we heard from the Colts leading up to Sunday's home opener was a both-things-can-be-true message: Yes, we're frustrated with how we played in Week 2; no, we're not panicking after an 0-1-1 start.
And that mentality played out in real time over the course of Sunday afternoon, resulting in the Colts earning a 20-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in their home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Nobody panicked," linebacker Shaquille Leonard, who didn't play but was a constantly-energetic fixture on the sideline, said. "From the first quarter to the fourth quarter, nobody panicked."
Instead of panicking at the specter of Patrick Mahomes or a Chiefs defense that found ways to put pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan, the Colts stayed calm and confident – which allowed them to take advantage of a number of mistakes by the Chiefs.
None were more notable than the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct flag assessed to defensive tackle Chris Jones in the fourth quarter. The Colts had already sent their punt team on the field with about five minutes left and the Chiefs leading, 17-13; instead of a drive-ending sack, the Colts had a fresh set of downs. From there, the Colts' offense did this:
- 7-yard completion to Michael Pittman Jr.
- 1-yard loss on a run by Nyheim Hines
- 4-yard completion to Pittman for a first down
- 8-yard completion to Parris Campbell
- 7-yard rush by Hines for a first down
- 10-yard holding penalty on Matt Pryor, setting up first and 20
- 13-yard rush by Jonathan Taylor
- 14-yard completion to Alec Pierce
- Incomplete pass to Pierce
- 12-yard game-winning touchdown to Jelani Woods
Those plays chewed about four and a half minutes off the clock and left Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense with 24 seconds to drive into at least field goal range. Some sticky coverage by cornerback Stephon Gilmore resulted in a tipped pass that was intercepted by safety Rodney McLeod Jr. with just seconds remaining, sealing the Colts' win.
"To come back after an awful Jaguars loss and come in at home — game's up and down, they're a good team too, they're going to make plays, we (the O-line) had some miscommunication stuff, and when the team really needed it the most we went out there and put (those plays together), that's what it's all about, man," center Ryan Kelly said. "Complementary football. It's not always pretty in the NFL, but if you can dig deep and go out there and get a win, man, nothing feels better."
The Colts' offense had an opportunity to go win the game thanks to opportunistic play on special teams and stifling defense from Gus Bradley's group.
The Chiefs started three drives inside the Colts' 15-yard line and didn't score on any of them; Kylen Granson's recovery of a Skyy Moore muffed punt led to Matt Ryan finding Woods for a touchdown early in the first quarter. On consecutive fourth quarter possessions, the Chiefs didn't convert a fake field goal and then missed a field goal.
And for the Colts' special teams, kicker Chase McLaughlin made field goals 43 and 51 yards to keep things within striking distance.
"Special teams, you know, is that X-Factor where a big play can really swing momentum," linebacker Bobby Okereke said.
On defense, the Colts held the Chiefs to 2.5 yards per carry – running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire had seven carries for zero yards – and pressured Mahomes on 16 of his 46 dropbacks, resulting in the quarterback completing three of 12 passes for 65 yards and a passer rating of 49.7.
"You get that taste of victory and it's like an addiction," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "Winning is contagious. So is losing. Glad we're finally on the right side of it."
The Colts got the monkey off their back and beat a team that's been to two Super Bowls and four AFC Championships over the last four seasons by sticking to their process both during the week and during Sunday's game. Throwing away all the preparation this team did from the start of the offseason program in April to kickoff in Week 1 for two sub-par weeks was never an option. That would've been a panic move, done by a team that lacked confidence.
The Colts didn't panic. They remained confident – whether it was Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Sunday.
"This is a big win, but it's one game," head coach Frank Reich said. "We've got another big one next week, so we've got to put this one behind us. We've got to come in Monday, really you want as a head coach to get in the locker room, to get up here and say the same thing, win or lose. Let's study the tape, let's get better, let's find ways to win, let's find ways to become the team that we envision ourselves that we can be.
"I think today what we said in there was this showed us we can be the team that we want to be. We can be the team that we think coming into this season that we were going to be. We can be that team. But we've got to work to get better."
The Colts take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the first home game of the season at Lucas Oil Stadium.