INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today defeated the the Buffalo Bills, 37-5, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they improve to 2-5 on the season?
Forget the opponent, forget home or away — forget all the factors.
The Colts needed a victory today.
Entering Sunday's game against the Bills on a four-game losing streak, Indianapolis not only wanted a win for its own sanity, but because no other team in the AFC South Division is really running away with this thing so far, the Colts could still remain relevant in the race as the season starts to hit its halfway point.
So how do they respond? Only by scoring 24 unanswered points to begin the game.
In the Colts' three previous games, they would suffer the same fate in the first half of the contest — falling behind by double digits — before needing a huge effort from quarterback Andrew Luck and the offense to get them back into the game, getting to within at least one score in the second half of each of those contests against the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.
But by setting the tone early, and setting it often against the Bills — and doing it both offensively with big plays, and defensively by forcing multiple turnovers — there was no repeat of that storyline on Sunday.
The Colts were the aggressors from the start, and the Bills couldn't do a thing about it.
Now Indy goes into its final game before the bye week — the Colts travel to Oakland to take on the Raiders next Sunday before getting a little break — with a little momentum on its side.
Just what the doctor ordered.
Last Sunday, it was an Andrew Luck pass attempt to running back Marlon Mack on the second play of the game that led to an interception return for a touchdown for the New York Jets' defense, putting the Colts in a quick 7-0 hole.
Today those kinds of mistakes weren't going to be made.
In fact, with 9:35 left in the second quarter, it was the Luck-to-Mack connection that really set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
Leading 6-0 at the time, Luck, on 2nd and 8 from the Buffalo 29-yard line, lined up in the shotgun, received the snap and had plenty of time to throw. With all of his other options covered up, Mack was left all alone around the line of scrimmage along the right sideline.
Mack received the throw from Luck and had a little bit of work to do if he wanted to turn this from a big play into a huge play.
So Mack, for perhaps the first time all season, was able to turn on his burners in the open field, and simply outran the two Buffalo defenders who possibly could've made a play on him, and slowed down only when he reached the end zone.
The play, and the ensuing two-point conversion, put the Colts up 14-0 and allowed the defense to really, with a first-half lead, begin to pin its ears back and make some plays, too.
The Bills were forced to punt on their next drive, and Indy turned that into another touchdown, this time a five-yard strike from Luck to T.Y. Hilton. 21-0, 1:48 left in the second quarter.
And the rest, as they say, was only a formality.
PLAY OF THE GAME
How about two plays of the game, both credited to Mike Mitchell?
The veteran safety was signed just a couple weeks ago to help make up for the loss of starting strong safety Clayton Geathers, who has been dealing with a concussion and a neck injury suffered Week 5 against the Patriots and has been unable to play since.
Mitchell had a solid outing getting the start in place of Geathers in his Indy debut last Week against the Jets, but more formally introduced himself to Colts fans on Sunday.
It started at the 11:01 mark of the second quarter, when Bills quarterback Derek Anderson found tight end Charles Clay for a nine-yard completion at the Indianapolis 13-yard line. But Mitchell would pop the ball out of Clay's hands shortly after he secured the catch, and linebacker Darius Leonard pounced on the football to earn the takeaway for the Indy defense.
That led to the aforementioned 29-yard touchdown pass from Luck to Mack just three plays later.
But Mitchell wasn't done.
With just 29 seconds left in the second quarter now, Anderson, on 1st and 5 from the Indianapolis 43, tried to find his big wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, for a pass deep across the middle. But there was that man, Mitchell, again, who stepped in front of Benjamin and picked it off, returning it all the way to the Buffalo 32-yard line — a 47-yard return — to, once again, set up another Colts score.
Three plays later, Adam Vinatieri knocked in a 36-yard field goal, and Indianapolis went into halftime completely in control, up 24-0.
It was the 11th interception for Mitchell in his career, and his first since 2016. In two games, Mitchell has 10 tackles, one pass defensed, one forced fumble and one pick. Not bad for a guy who spent the first five weeks of the season watching from his couch.
Four catches for 25 yards.
Not exactly a standout performance for T.Y. Hilton, right?
Hilton had two touchdown receptions on the day, both of which coming in the red zone, in his first game action in three weeks after battling through both chest and hamstring injuries.
With Hilton out the last two games, the Colts pass catchers battled through a tough case of the drops. Against both the Patriots and the Jets, it seemed as though there were many potential big plays taken out of the stat sheet because the receivers simply couldn't hang on to the ball.
Kudos to the Indy receivers for stepping up and ending that mini-trend on Sunday, but having Hilton back on the field undoubtedly just allowed everyone involved to simply calm down and make plays.
With his two touchdown grabs on Sunday, by the way, Hilton has now matched his total (four) from all of last season. He'll hope to clear his career-high of seven touchdown receptions, which he had in his rookie season in 2012, as well as in 2014 — which ended in his first of four straight Pro Bowl appearances.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• Quite simply, the Colts' run game was on fire on Sunday. Coming into the game, the Bills were ranked as the eighth-best defense against the run in the NFL, but credit goes to the Indy offensive line, as well as the backs, for taking that statistic and jamming it back down Buffalo's throat. The Colts ran the ball 37 times for 220 yards — that's 5.9 yards per carry — as all three of the team's young running backs were making plays throughout the afternoon. Marlon Mack had a career day, finishing with 19 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown, while also adding that receiving touchdown, but Nyheim Hines (five carries, 47 yards) and Jordan Wilkins (six carries, 46 yards) also were terrific in relief.
• The Indy defense used the early lead to its advantage, and never took its foot off the gas the rest of the way. The Colts had five takeaways on the day in all — two on forced/recovered fumbles, and three on interceptions. Indianapolis has been pretty opportunistic the whole season to this point, but this was really the first time we've seen what this defense can do with a big lead. Mitchell was solid, as was Leonard (17 tackles, fumble recovery), but Kenny Moore II and Corey Moore also came away with interceptions, while Kemoko Turay, Al Woods and Margus Hunt were getting plenty of penetration up front.
• Two areas in which the Colts have struggled lately — dropped passes and untimely turnovers — weren't an issue offensively against the Bills. There were maybe one or two drops on the day, but none of them ended up making much of a difference. And as it pertains to turnovers — the Colts had zero. With another quality day of pass protection — the Colts allowed zero sacks for a second week in a row — Luck never really had to worry about defenders being in his face, and even when he did have to scramble or roll out, it seemed like he was able to make a play. Just a strong, strong overall game for the Colts.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• There will be a few items to correct when the Colts pop in the game film tomorrow. One was a botched snap between center Ryan Kelly and Luck that led to a safety for the Bills. After the game, Luck chalked it up to a miscommunication — it looked as if the snap took him by surprise, and then the ball was knocked out of the back of the end zone. Fortunately at that point, the game was already pretty much in hand, but it's still something to work on moving forward (especially considering the Colts had already given up a defensive touchdown on a botched snap play earlier in the season against the Texans).
• Adam Vinatieri seemed to be struggling throughout Sunday's game, as he missed two extra points, while the field goal and extra points he did convert weren't exactly down the middle. Asked if Vinatieri was still dealing with a groin injury that had put him on the injury report during Week 5, head coach Frank Reich said he wasn't aware of that, but Vinatieri did tell reporters after the game that the groin is still bothering him. Stay tuned for an update on him as we get it.
• Although the rest of the game went very well, the game didn't exactly start off the greatest for the Colts' offense, which went three-and-out on its first two drives. On the first drive of the game, Luck lined up in shotgun on 3rd and 1 from his own 34, but quickly walked up under center and took a snap for a quarterback sneak. Nothing was doing as Luck tried to gain the yard he needed to his left, however. The second drive only got as far as the Indy 16-yard line before the Colts were forced to punt once again. When the team has such a successful game overall, it's hard to nitpick minor things that didn't really go the Colts' way, but perhaps Indy didn't quite set the immediate tone it wanted to, at least on its first two drives.
— Two Colts players left Sunday's game with injury: defensive tackle Jihad Ward (ankle) and tight end Erik Swoope (knee); Ward had to be carted off. Look for an update from Reich during his Monday afternoon conference call, or later in the week on the team's injury report.
The Colts now have one more game remaining until their bye week — and it's their longest road trip of the season. Indy next Sunday travels to take on the Oakland Raiders in their Week 8 matchup at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The Raiders, who are currently on their bye week, will enter the matchup with a 1-5 record, putting them in fourth place in the AFC West Division. With Jon Gruden returning as head coach this season, Oakland is 15th in the league in total offense (373.5 yards per game), but is 27th in total defense (398.5 yards allowed per game).
See all of Sunday's action at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts host the Buffalo Bills