INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts earned victory No. 1 on the season Sunday with a 21-9 result over the Washington Redskins at FedExField.
The Colts' offense came through to jump out to an early lead and then make some game-sealing plays late, but the team's defense was swarming throughout the game, keeping a talented Redskins offense out of the end zone the entire afternoon and shutting down its run game.
"What a hard-fought win," Reich said. "We talked about it as a team this week playing with conviction and that when you have conviction and you believe in each other and you believe in what you're doing, it just gives you some extra juice, right?
"I think we had that for 60 minutes today even when we faced adversity. Even when we came out as an offense and didn't play so good in the third quarter, we hung in there. The defense played great, kept us in it and then we came through at the end and finished the game the way we wanted to finish."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's game against the Redskins:
• STRONG START, STRONGER FINISH: Football teams always talk about the need to be strong at the start and at the end of games. The Colts had both on Sunday. Receiving the opening kickoff, the Colts marched right down the field, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to tight end Eric Ebron. That wrapped up an impressive 11-play, 75-yard opening drive. And even despite going dormant for the better part of 1 1/2 quarters in the third quarter and early in the fourth, the Indy offense came through when it needed to the most. At the 7:32 mark of the fourth quarter, Luck found T.Y. Hilton on a well-designed three-yard touchdown pass to seal the game, making it 21-9, and the defense did the rest from there. That, by the way, was a 13-play, 75-yard drive. Reich will of course want to investigate what happened to the offense in the third quarter, but the overall goal of jumping out to a lead, and then padding the lead late, has got to be satisfying.
• THAT DEFENSE, THOUGH: Speed, hustle, striking ability. Those are the cornerstones of coordinator Matt Eberflus' defensive philosophy, and they were all on display on Sunday against the Redskins. Washington has Pro Bowlers all over the place, whether it's Alex Smith at quarterback, Adrian Peterson at running back, Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis at tight end and Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff along the offensive line, but Indy didn't blink throughout the contest. The Colts kept the Redskins out of the end zone the entire game — that's just the second time a Jay Gruden-led Redskins team has not scored a touchdown since he was hired in 2014. The Colts limited Peterson and the Redskins' rushing attack to 22 carries for just 65 yards — a 3.0 yards-per-carry average, one week after they ran all over the Arizona Cardinals to the tune of 182 yards rushing and a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. Indy had three sacks on the day — and would've had two more if not for offsides penalties. The Colts' defense is young, yes, but playing with maximum effort and remaining coachable can really help mask some of the growing pains. And on Sunday, that unit was the real star of the show.
• THE MANIAC: Speaking of stars of the show, how about Darius Leonard? The Colts' WILL linebacker nicknamed "The Maniac" played like one on Sunday — in a good way, of course — and he certainly didn't look like a rookie as he made play after play after play on the FedExField grass. Leonard finished his day with an astounding 18 total tackles — 15 of which were solo stops — and also contributed a sack, a huge forced fumble and a pass breakup on the Redskins' final play from scrimmage to wrap up one of the finest performances by a defensive rookie in franchise history. "I mean, what, 18 tackles, a sack — you know, unbelievable. A pass defended, forced fumble, the guy— you love him," Reich said about Leonard's performance. "I remember [general manager] Chris Ballard talking about him and having his eyes on him in the draft. Not just talking about this guy's playmaking ability, his athletic ability, but the kind of football character we want on this team. Man, what a day." Leonard should be up for at least a couple league-wide awards this week.
• STEPPING UP: One of the larger storylines heading into the game against the Redskins was how the Colts would fare up front without starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who has been battling a nagging hamstring injury and missed the first game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals as a precaution, was confident heading into the first day of preparations for Washington — and then re-aggravated the injury in practice. The team ended up replacing him in the lineup on Sunday with third-year lineman Le'Raven Clark, who has had chances to be a starter the past two seasons but just hadn't quite taken advantage of the opportunities. Clark simply delivered against the Redskins, holding his own against the likes of Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan, who combined for just one quarterback hit on the afternoon rushing off the edge versus Clark and right tackle Joe Haeg. Reich didn't believe Castonzo's re-aggravated hamstring injury was major, but he can be much more confident with Clark at left tackle moving forward if need be thanks to Sunday's performance.
• NOTES OF INTEREST:
— At 1-1, the Colts are off to their best start since 2013.
— With his touchdown pass in the first quarter, Andrew Luck extended his streak of at least one touchdown pass to 25 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
— T.Y. Hilton caught his second touchdown of the season and finished the day with 83 receiving yards. His 12 receptions and two touchdowns are a career best through the first two-games of a season.
— The Colts defense held the Redskins to 304 total yards and nine points. It is the first time since 12/18/16 at Minnesota the Colts held their opponent without a touchdown.
— With his second extra point, Adam Vinatieri became just the second player in NFL history to reach 2,500 career points.