INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts improved to 7-8 on the season Sunday with their 38-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers in their 2019 Week 16 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With a possible playoff appearance no longer in the cards, the Colts had to re-adjust their goals for the remaining two games heading into Sunday's contest. They were able to check off a lot of those boxes with a dominant performance in all three phases to close out their 2019 home schedule and snap a frustrating four-game losing streak.
"Great win," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "Man, it's been a long time coming. It sure felt good. (It was a) complete win, we were really good in all three phases. So real credit to the guys for preparing all week, getting ready, playing together, playing for each other and proving that we can trust each other even in a situation like this."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's victory over the Panthers:
» HISTORIC HINES: In a game in which all three phases shined, it's the special teams that's the story of the day for the Colts, as second-year running back Nyheim Hines put in a performance for the ages returning punts. He got his day started with a 40-yard punt return after Carolina went three-and-out on its opening possession, nearly taking it to the house before being caught from behind at the Panthers' 36. That wouldn't be the case on his next return, however, as Hines took it 84 yards to the house to extend the Colts' lead to 14-0 midway through the first quarter. The team had extended that lead to 24-6 by midway through the fourth quarter when Hines struck again with another house call on a punt return, this time from 71 yards out. Hines set two single-game Colts franchise records with his 195 punt return yards and two return touchdowns; it's the fourth-most punt return yards in a game in NFL history, and it's the first time since 2012 an NFL player has had two punt return touchdowns in a game. "Honestly, I've had dreams where I've played well. I don't think I had a day like that in any dream," Hines said. "It's surreal."
» BACK TO ROOTS: The Colts head into just about every game wanting to establish the run first and foremost, and while they've been a top-five team in that area pretty much the entire season, Indy has run into a buzzsaw trying to get the run game going the last few weeks against some of the best rush defenses the NFL has to offer in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. The Colts knew they had a chance to get back to their roots on Sunday against the Panthers, though, as Carolina features one of the league's worst run-defending units. Mission accomplished. The Colts ran the ball 32 times for 218 yards and three rushing touchdowns on the day, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and getting to the 200-yard rushing mark as a team for the third time this season. "They put us on their shoulders and carried the load. I tip my hat off to those guys – Marlon (Mack) the receivers and tight ends with blocking," Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. "And not just when Marlon's in the game, when every back is in the game. Look at their force. They had probably one of the best force defenders in the league in (Eric) Reid, I think we kind of controlled him today."
» GRAND MACK: With 11:34 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and the Colts already leading 24-6, Marlon Mack took the handoff from Brissett and broke free up the middle. By the time he was tackled 30 yards later at the Carolina 37-yard line, he had officially eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season for the first time in his three-year career. He became the first Colts player to get to 1,000 rushing yards in a single season since Frank Gore in 2016, and is the ninth running back to accomplish that feat in franchise history — and seventh since the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984. Mack was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season before suffering a broken hand Week 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but returned after missing just two games. He wanted to be sure to credit those in front of him taking out defenders play after play throughout the entire season when talking about the accomplishment after Sunday's game. "It's a crazy experience. I'm truly grateful for it, thankful for it," Mack said. "O-linemen pretty much got me there. The holes were amazing today — wide open. So truly grateful for it, and thankful for them. … It was a definitely goal that now I can check off my sheet. And I'm truly proud of it and thankful for it. I'm just glad we got the W with it."
» DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: After playing some solid football through the middle portion of the schedule, the Colts' defense had faced its share of adversity over the past month or so in losses to the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans — and especially the previous two weeks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints, whose veteran quarterbacks both put in career days and seemingly made plays at will. But facing a rookie quarterback making his first-career start on Sunday in the Panthers' Will Grier, the Colts had a perfect opportunity to put an end to those defensive struggles. Check. Indy held Carolina to just 286 yards of total offense, including 87 on the ground and 199 through the air, as the Colts sacked Grier five times and picked off three of his pass attempts — two of which were nabbed by cornerback Pierre Desir. "What we was focused on was just playing our defense, read our keys," Desir said. "We were just trying to get the last win for the fans, and it was a good feeling to go out there and put out that type of performance."
» NOTES OF INTEREST:
— Defensive end Justin Houston had two solo tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss and 1.0 sack. With his sack on Sunday, Houston reached 10.0 for the season and became the first Colts player to record double-digit sacks since 2016 (Erik Walden). The sack marked Houston's fourth career season with 10-plus sacks (2012-14).
— See more stats and notes from Sunday's game by clicking here.
See all the action on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts host the Carolina Panthers for their final home game of the 2019 season.