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Five Things Learned: Colts-Dolphins (Week 12)

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts improved to 6-5 on the season Sunday with their 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It wasn’t always pretty — the Colts faced some issues offensively and defensively over the first three quarters, leading to a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter — but head coach Frank Reich’s team found a way to get it together down the final stretch to eventually set up Adam Vinatieri for a 32-yard field goal as time expired and give Indy its fifth straight victory, moving the team to 6-5.

“Wow, what a game,” Reich told reporters after the game. “(It’s) not the way you draw it up. It wasn’t our best football, per se, but if you’re trying to become a good football team you need to find ways to win games like this and we did that. I’m really proud of the guys (with) the way they hung in there because it was not pretty at times (with) mistakes, but all three phases came through.”

Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday’s victory over the Dolphins:

• LUCK’S HEROICS: After an up-and-down first three quarters, Andrew Luck really turned things on in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Dolphins, completing 11-of-12 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown for a quarterback rating of 140.6. All of that might not have really mattered, however, if Luck wasn’t able to convert a huge 3rd and 9 play late in that period. Lined up at the Indy 43-yard line, Luck took the snap from the shotgun formation and after a couple seconds felt heat from the Miami defensive front. Luck somehow evaded three defenders and started to stumble as he ran up in the pocket. It looked as if he was definitely going to try to scramble his way into an improbable first down when, all of a sudden, he regained his balance and launched a pass deep down the left sideline, where — somehow, some way — wide receiver Chester Rogers was standing there all alone. The 34-yard completion got the Colts to the Miami 23, and a few plays later, Adam Vinatieri came on to knock in the game-winning field goal. Luck acknowledged after the game he has some mistakes to clear up from Sunday’s contest, but his final stat line — 30-of-37 passing for 343 yards with three touchdowns to two interceptions (and one reception for four yards…) continues his push into the MVP race as the Colts have forced their way into the playoff conversation.

• SHUTTING THE DOOR: The Dolphins, who had realty been struggling on offense heading into Sunday’s game, were finding success against Indy’s defense the first three-plus quarters of the game, as Ryan Tannehill — returning for the first time in five games after working his way back from a right shoulder injury — was able to find some success in the pass game, while the running back duo of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake were making defenders miss carry after carry. But when the Colts really needed to put the clamps down defensively on Sunday, that’s what they got. After a 14-yard touchdown run by Drake gave Miami a 10-point lead, 24-14, with 13:42 left in the fourth quarter, the Indy defense would force two straight three-and-outs to close out the game and give the offense a chance to win it — which, of course, ended up happening. On another note, the Colts forced yet another turnover on Monday — safety Mike Mitchell knocked the ball out of the hands of tight end Mike Gesicki late in the second quarter, which was recovered by defensive tackle/end Denico Autry — which marks the 11th straight game to open the season that Indy has earned a takeaway. The Colts are one of only two teams (the other being the Cleveland Browns) to force a turnover in all of their games so far this season.

• CHASING HISTORY: Eric Ebron’s resurgent season continues. The 10th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Ebron certainly had his moments in his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions, but never really flourished in their offense. That’s certainly not the case now in his first year working under Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni in Indianapolis, however. Ebron on Sunday caught two more touchdown passes to bring his season total to 11, which puts him in a three-way tie with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill for the league lead in that category. Ebron has also now tied Dallas Clark for the most receiving touchdowns in single season by a tight end in Colts franchise history, and he sits just four scores away from tying Marvin Harrison for the team’s single-season record of 15, which the Hall of Famer accomplished twice (2001, 2004).

• PLAYOFF HOPES: The win for the Colts continues to keep them relevant in the AFC playoff picture. Entering Sunday, Indianapolis was one of five teams sporting a 5-5 record and tied for the sixth and final AFC postseason spot. Now, at 6-5, the Colts remain tied with the Baltimore Ravens for that spot after the Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals both lost to fall to 5-6 (the Tennessee Titans, the other 5-5 team heading into Week 12, play tonight against the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football). What does that all mean? The Colts will enter the month of December as a relevant contender. That’s just what you could’ve asked for after three straight seasons of no playoffs, capped by last year’s 4-12 performance.

• NOTES OF INTEREST:

— The Colts have won five games in a row for the first time since 2014 (9/21-10/19).

— A sack allowed to Cam Wake in the third quarter Sunday snapped a streak of 243 straight passing attempts by Luck without being sacked, dating back to the first drive of the Colts’ Week 5 matchup against the New England Patriots. Indy entered the game tied for the league’s third-longest sackless streak in NFL history.

— Andrew Luck became the first Colts player since Joseph Addai on 11/1/09 to record at least one yard passing, receiving and rushing.

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