INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today defeated the Miami Dolphins, 27-24, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they improve to 6-5 on the season?
Down 10 points, 24-14, early in the fourth quarter — and with seemingly everything going wrong — the Colts certainly didn't look like they were going to earn a fifth straight win and continue to strengthen their case for a late-season playoff push.
At the time, the Indy offense was struggling to move the ball with any sort of consistency, its defense was having issues bringing the Dolphins' ballcarriers to the ground and the Colts' special teams units were having their worst collective afternoon of the season.
But this Colts team, under head coach Frank Reich, has developed an obsession to finish.
And finish the Colts did.
A 10-play drive resulted in a 46-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to cut the Miami lead to seven, 24-17, midway through the fourth quarter.
Then the Colts' defense came through, forcing a three-and-out and quickly getting the Indy offense back on the field.
Seven plays and 89 yards later, Andrew Luck threaded the needle to find Eric Ebron for a game-tying, 12-yard touchdown throw-and-catch — the tight end's second receiving touchdown of the day, and his 11th of the season — and all of a sudden the Colts were a defensive stop away from getting a chance to win this thing.
And wouldn't you know it? After a superb kickoff from Rigoberto Sanchez — and resulting holding penalty on the return by the Dolphins — Miami couldn't get anything going again, going three-and-out and punting to Luck and the Colts' offense, which took over with 2:38 left in the fourth quarter.
It took one almost-miraculous effort by Luck (see more below), but the seventh-year Stanford product showed exactly why he should be right smack dab in the middle of the MVP conversation this season on the final drive of the game, getting the ball to the Miami 14-yard line with three seconds left for Vinatieri.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Vinatieri nailed the 32-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Colts the 27-24 win — the fifth straight for a club that remains tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.
It's not often the execution of a kickoff is the focus after a game, but Rigoberto Sanchez's effort late in Sunday's game might've been just as important as any other play that developed during that crucial stretch.
After the Colts tied the game at 24 with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter, Indy really needed to pin the Dolphins deep to try to ensure, A.) Miami would need as many yards as possible to go on a long game-winning drive of its own; and/or, B.) A defensive stop, particularly a three-and-out, would likely result in terrific field position for a potential game-winning drive for the Colts' offense.
Sanchez, who typically kicks the ball to/through the end zone for touchbacks, instead dropped a dime in this instance right at the goal line, and returner Senorise Perry apparently had no choice but to bring it out.
The fact Perry was brought down at the 16-yard line was, alone, a terrific result for the Colts' kickoff unit, but a holding call on Stephone Anthony was a back breaker for Miami, which had to start the ensuing drive backed up to its own 6-yard line.
The Colts' defense then followed through on its end. A Frank Gore carry on first down went for no gain, as did a pass attempt by Ryan Tannehill to DeVante Parker on second down.
On 3rd and 10, Kenyan Drake would only muster four yards on a carry up the middle, and the Dolphins were forced to punt.
We'll pick it up from here below, but this sequence was a perfect example of simple execution potentially being the difference between a win and a loss.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Andrew Luck had about as human a reaction as one can imagine at the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.
Tied at 24 and driving for a potential game-winning score, the Colts faced a critical 3rd and 9 from their own 43-yard line. If you can't convert, you're looking at punting the ball back to the Dolphins, who would be trying to execute a two-minute drill of their own to fly home with a win.
Luck took the snap, dropped back and faced heavy pressure both from his left and from up the middle. He started to stumble as he worked his way up in the pocket.
"Oh s---!" Luck would later recall when asked what went through his head at that very moment.
Somehow — some way — Luck was able to keep his eyes down the field, however. When just about everybody expected him to try to fight for as many yards as he could scrambling with the ball, Luck uncorks a pass deep down the left side of the field, where wide receiver Chester Rogers is standing wide open around the Miami 27-yard line.
Rogers, head coach Frank Reich would later admit, wasn't even supposed to be part of the progression on the pass play when it started.
The improbable 34-yard completion got Indy well into range for Adam Vinatieri. After Nyheim Hines had two run plays for a combined nine yards, Vinatieri came on to nail the game-winner as time expired.
But that effort by Luck won't soon be forgotten — especially if the Colts can continue collecting wins.
Colts Nation held its collective breath after just one play in Sunday's game.
Darius Leonard, the heart and soul of the Colts' defense, was on the turf in obvious pain, as even head coach Frank Reich came onto the field to check on his rookie star.
Leonard got up and walked it off on his own — slowly — to the Colts' locker room, but was labeled as questionable to return with a knee injury.
Leonard soon returned — and it was like he never left.
The NFL's leader in tackles continued to do his thing on Sunday, as he had another stat sheet-stuffing performance: a team-best 10 tackles (nine solo), one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hit.
Leonard continued padding his résumé for the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, as he now has 114 tackles (nine for a loss), 6.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries on the season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• Prior to being knocked out of the game with a concussion, running back Marlon Mack had some real sensational moments in Sunday's game. He finished with 15 rushing attempts for 85 yards — an average of 5.7 yards per carry — and his biggest play of the game helped take a ton of pressure off the Colts' offense and allow them to breathe a little easier. On 1st and 10 from the Indy 35, he took the handoff from Luck and sprinted forward for 25 yards, getting to the Miami 40. Nine plays and just 12 yards later, Adam Vinatieri would connect from 46 yards out to get the Colts to within a touchdown, 24-17, with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter.
• The bittersweet news for the Colts' offensive line? Bitter: the unit's "sackless" streak ended on Sunday, as Andrew Luck was sacked for the first time in 239 dropbacks when Cam Wake came through to strip Luck of the ball in the third quarter. It was the first time Luck had been sacked since the first drive of the Colts' Week 5 matchup against the New England Patriots. Here's the sweet: the Dolphins didn't get much else in the way of hits on Luck. Wake had all three of the team's quarterback hits, but that would be it.
• The Colts' takeaway streak continued on Sunday, as safety Mike Mitchell was able to pop the ball out of the grasp of tight end Mike Gesicki late in the second quarter, and defensive tackle/end Denico Autry was able to dive on the loose ball to complete the turnover. Indianapolis has now earned at least one takeaway in every game this season, and is one of just two teams to have done that in 2018.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• Prior to that excellent kickoff late in the game by Rigoberto Sanchez, and then the game-winning field goal from Adam Vinatieri, the Colts' special teams units had put in perhaps their worst collective game of the season on Sunday. Early in the third quarter, Kiko Alonso came in and blocked a Sanchez punt, setting up the Dolphins with prime field position at the Indianapolis 42; they turned that into a 29-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead. Then, later in the quarter, Vinatieri would miss a 48-yard field goal attempt that would've tied the game at 17. You can also add an illegal block call on Chris Milton to this list, which happened on a punt return play midway through the fourth quarter, but Indy was able to eventually turn that into the game-tying touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Eric Ebron, so it can be forgiven a little more.
• The Colts' tackling got a little suspect in the middle part of the game, and the Dolphins certainly took advantage. This issue was perhaps no more apparent than the Dolphins' drive to go up 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, as Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake seemingly slipped out of several tackles time and time again, leading to Drake's 14-yard touchdown run with 13:42 left in the game. Tackling hasn't been a huge issue for this Indy defense all season — just something to work on from time to time — so, by now, the assumption is the unit will take in the film and get better from here.
• An odd sequence led to the Colts committing two turnovers in a span of 14 seconds late in the second quarter. With a minute left, Andrew Luck was picked off by cornerback Xavien Howard on a deep pass attempt to the right intended for T.Y. Hilton. On the very next play, Mitchell would come in and force that aforementioned fumble, which was recovered by the Colts' defense. Again, on the very next play, however, Luck was picked off by Howard again, this time on an underthrown ball intended deep down the middle for tight end Eric Ebron. The game clock at the time of that play? 46 seconds. So while you can't fault the Colts for trying to get aggressive after a big takeaway by their defense, the immediate turnover by Luck and the offense sure took away any good feelings — and fast. Despite those two picks, however, Luck still has 32 touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions on the year.
— Running back Marlon Mack suffered what was later determined to be a concussion in the fourth quarter and did not return. We'll try to get an update on Mack during Frank Reich's weekly conference call with the media, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday. Mack was the only Colts player to exit Sunday's contest. Linebacker Darius Leonard (knee) was briefly out, but returned. Tight end Jack Doyle was also seen being worked on by team trainers on the sideline at one point, but he quickly returned.
After wrapping up a three-game homestand today, the Colts hit the road again next Sunday, as they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. The Jaguars today fell to the Buffalo Bills, 24-21, to move to 3-8 on the season, putting them in last place in the AFC South Division. The Colts will hope to turn the tables and sweep the season series against Jacksonville, as they defeated the Jaguars, 29-26, back in Week 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Catch all the action on the field as the Indianapolis Colts host the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium.