INDIANAPOLIS – RETURN OF MATHIS SPARKED PASS RUSH – It was not for the entire game on Sunday, but the Colts' Pro Bowl duo of pass rushers was back on the field and causing nightmares for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Linebacker Robert Mathis left the game with a back injury late in the first half, but he did his damage during his time on the field.
With the Dolphins in the red zone on their opening possession, a speed rush by Mathis got to Tannehill and forced a nine-yard sack on first down. Two ensuing plays got the Dolphins back to the original scrimmage line, forcing a field goal.
With the first-quarter sack, Mathis tied his career-high of recording a takedown in eight straight games. He did the same back in 2005. Despite missing three games this season, Mathis leads the team with six sacks.
Linebacker Dwight Freeney made his presence felt all afternoon with a pair of quarterback hurries to go along with his second-quarter sack and forced fumble of Tannehill.
Miami began its second drive of the second quarter on its own 20-yard line. On a first-and-10, Freeney executed a perfect spin move against Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long and was able to hit Tannehill from the blind side.
Long caught the ball, preventing a takeaway for Indianapolis, but Freeney had left a calling card.
Tannehill became the 52nd quarterback Freeney has sacked during his 11-year career.
Colts nose tackle Antonio Johnson has been flanked on the outside by Freeney and Mathis since joining Indianapolis during the 2008 season.
Having that combination on the field opens up the ability to make some big plays for the Colts defense.
"It means a lot," Johnson said of having them out there together. "Those guys, they've been causing havoc for years in this league. Together they are just unstoppable. It's been a blessing for me to play with those guys for this long."
As a whole, the Colts defense made a strong stand following a slow beginning to Sunday's game.
After allowing 17 points on the first three possessions, Indianapolis only gave up three points on Miami's final seven possessions. It was the second straight week the club's defensive unit limited an opponent to three second-half points. Indianapolis did so in earning a 19-13 overtime win on October 28 at Tennessee.
"We had to buckle down," Freeney said. "They did a great job keeping us off-balanced in the first half. They were passing when we thought they were going to run the ball, running the ball when we thought they were going to pass. They did a great job of keeping us off-balance.
"We came in at halftime and said, 'Look, we have to settle down. We can't have another 17 points in the second half, or we will not win this one.' "
The Colts' defensive line also benefited from the return of starting end Fili Moala to the lineup.
Out for the past three games along with Mathis, Moala had a quarterback hurry to go along with his three tackles. It gave the Colts their healthiest looking defensive line since the beginning of the season.
"It felt great," Moala said of his return. "Being out for three weeks, it kind of puts things in perspective. You realize how much you love the game, how at any minute it can be taken away."
INJURIES PILE UP WITH SHORT WEEK –With two games in four days beginning on Sunday, Bruce Arians admitted earlier in the week that part of his staff would be putting together a game plan for Jacksonville to make up for the short week.
But the first objective was on Sunday, and that was moving to 5-3 with a 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
"All we can do is control (Monday)," Arians said after the win. "We've got a very short week. We've got a practice tomorrow and Tuesday, we get on a plane Wednesday and play on Thursday night.
"We're beat up, that was a physical football game. We're going to play a division game on the road Thursday night. We've got to respect the process each day, one play at a time, one day at a time, and then let the games come."
The win on Sunday came via the Colts using the "Next Man Up" philosophy.
Center Samson Satele and offensive tackle Winston Justice both went down in the victory, forcing a little shuffling up front.
"I couldn't be more proud of A.Q. Shipley coming in there and showing up, Green Bay game and now this one," quarterback Andrew Luck. "He shows up and does a hell of a job, Bradley Sowell coming in at right tackle, Donnie (Avery) going out and receivers really stepping up. Such is the nature of football and guys on the team realize it. It's, 'Next Man Up.' Hopefully, guys get healthy. We got some chances to get some wins in the next couple of weeks, and we'll try and do that."
It was Shipley and Sowell up front for the offense because of injuries. The skill positions also had to deal with a few players leaving the game.
Running back Donald Brown left the game in the first half with a back injury and the bulk of the running game late in the fourth quarter fell on the shoulders of Vick Ballard and Delone Carter.
Rookie wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill made critical catches in the second half with Avery leaving the game with a hip injury.
"We don't make it easy, do we? We can't make it easy, but I'm so proud of these guys," said Shipley. "We grinded. We finished with that last run right there by Vick (Ballard). They had eight, nine guys in the box and he grinded it up in the middle and got us a first down."
Now with the first half of the regular season in the rearview mirror, the Colts quickly will turn their attention to Thursday night and a rematch with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For many of the Colts players, it will be the first time having to juggle a short week. The veterans will be counted upon as Indianapolis looks to continue its three-game winning streak.
"The biggest thing is to put this game behind us," defensive end Fili Moala said. "It's a great victory, but we've got to put it behind us because we have Jacksonville up so quick, and, obviously, they beat us last game. We have to come with our 'A' game."