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As Colts Seek Solutions On Offense, Defense Comes Through With Clutch Late-Game Plays

Four critical plays by the Colts' defense are massive reasons why this team sits at 2-2-1 through five games. 

As the Colts work figure out solutions and find answers on offense, they've been able to earn a 2-2-1 record thanks to some standout late-game playmaking by their defense.

And while that record isn't where the team wants to be, it could be worse if not for the defense's ability to come up with four plays that significantly impacted – if not downright sealed – two wins and one tie:

Week 1: With 40 seconds left in overtime and the Texans facing a third-and-one on the Colts' 47-yard line, Grover Stewart brings down running back Rex Burkhead for a loss of two. Houston punts on fourth down, effectively sealing a 20-20 tie.

Week 3: With eight seconds left and the Chiefs having the ball on the Colts' 46-yard line, Stephon Gilmore deflects Patrick Mahomes' pass into the waiting arms of Rodney McLeod Jr. for a game-sealing interception.

Week 5: With 2:13 left in the fourth quarter and the Broncos having a third-and-four at the Colts' 13-yard line, Gilmore picks off Russell Wilson, triggering a game-tying drive by the offense. It was only the second interception thrown by an offense in the red zone while leading by one possession with under three minutes left in a game since at least 1994, per Pro Football Reference.

Week 5: With 2:38 left in overtime and the Broncos facing a fourth-and-one at the Colts' five-yard line, Gilmore swats away Wilson's pass in the end zone, clinching the Colts' win.

"As a defense, that's what you want," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "You want the game to be in your hands, you want it to be the last play, you want to end the game."

The Colts' offense is last in the NFL with an average of 13.8 points scored per game; the Colts' defense is 10th in allowing an average of 18.8 points per game. But despite that disparity, head coach Frank Reich hasn't seen his team fracture along an offense vs. defense fault line – it's, in fact, brought the Colts together.

"To be able to be struggling on offense and have a defense not just hold you in games, but clinch games, I think that makes us closer as a team," Reich said. "Credit to the defense for not just making the plays to clinch games, but for not pointing fingers while the offense has been struggling. You haven't felt that, not even the slightest bit.

"We've been talking about this all year, the energy on the sideline, the camaraderie on the locker room — this is a team. That's what these guys are. I believe that we'll continue to see and reap the rewards of that as the season progresses.

"But when you go through struggles, it's a big deal. And our defense is doing it both on and off the field in that way."

While the Colts are still generally a young team, they added a handful of been-there, done-that veterans this offseason in Gilmore, quarterback Matt Ryan, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and safety Rodney McLeod. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and center Ryan Kelly are seven-year veterans, while six members of 2018's draft class (left guard Quenton Nelson, linebacker Shaquille Leonard, right guard/tackle Braden smith, defensive tackle Tyquan Lewis, running back Nyheim Hines and linebacker Zaire Franklin) are now five-year veterans.

So when things haven't been going right on either side of the ball, that veteran experience has been important to taking accountability and fixing things.

"We got a couple veteran guys that know the game, that can pick out that situation, and we have coaches that have been in the system for a long time, they can pick out the situation also. It goes hand in hand and guys wanting to get better to, at the end of the day, come out with a win."

On offense, the Colts remain confident in their ability to find solutions to avoid the kind of self-inflicted mistakes that've frequently led to second- and third-and-long plays – which are difficult for any team to consistently convert into first downs. But as they work through finding and executing those solutions, the ability to not lose games because of a playmaking defense with a "we got this" mentality is critically important for where the Colts want to go in 2022.

"It shows the type of grit that we have," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "And it's a good foundation that we can build off."

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