Skip to main content

Five Things Learned

Presented by

5 Colts Things Learned, Week 16: Offense struggles after fast start, defense's takeaway streak ends in 'that's not us' loss to Falcons

The Colts lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 29-10, in Week 16, falling to 8-7 but keeping possession of the AFC No. 7 seed. Here are five big things we learned on Christmas Eve in Atlanta. 

5_things_learned 1920x1080

1. The AFC South is still up for grabs.

The Colts, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars each had an opportunity to take control of the AFC South in Week 16 – and all three teams suffered multi-possession defeats:

  • Falcons 29, Colts 10
  • Browns 36, Texans 22
  • Buccaneers 30, Jaguars 12

All three teams are now 8-7 with two weeks left; the Jaguars own head-to-head and three-way tiebreakers over the Colts and Texans and remain in first place. The remaining schedules for those three teams:

Table inside Article
Team Opponents
Jaguars vs. Panthers (2-13), at Titans (5-10)
Texans vs. Titans (5-10), at Colts (8-7)
Colts vs. Raiders (6-8), vs. Texans (8-7)

The Colts are very much still alive in the AFC South, and Week 18 could set up for some epic scoreboard watching: If all three teams are still tied, a Jaguars loss to the Titans would mean the winner of the Colts-Texans game would win the division.

We'll keep an eye this week on the status of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who exited Jacksonville's loss to the Buccaneers with a shoulder injury. Lawrence previously sustained an ankle injury and a concussion that limited him in practices this month, but he's never missed a game in three seasons as a pro.

2. The Colts' offense stalled after a strong start.

The Colts opened the game with a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive on which wide receiver Alec Pierce, tight end Will Mallory and running back Jonathan Taylor all came up with key plays. Pierce drew a pass interference flag in the end zone on a third-and-seven, and Taylor punched in a touchdown a few plays later. 

"You expect to go out there and do that," quarterback Gardner Minshew II said. "I think that's what we're capable of. It's always just a battle of consistency — I think we've gotta find ways to pull ourselves out of it when it's going down."

Over the Colts' next nine possessions, they scored three points and gained 148 yards on 45 plays (3.3 yards/play). And Minshew was sacked six times while Taylor was held to 1.8 yards per carry. 

"Credit to the Falcons," head coach Shane Steichen said. "They did a good job up front with their defensive line in some of the things they were doing. Again, that starts with myself. I have to be better for the guys going forward."

3. Michael Pittman Jr.'s absence was felt, but the Colts didn't view it as an excuse.

The Colts on Saturday downgraded Pittman from questionable to out after Steichen said his concussion symptoms relapsed. Pittman is back in the NFL concussion protocol and will have to clear it to play on New Year's Eve against the Las Vegas Raiders. 

With Pittman out, the Colts leaned on D.J. Montgomery to replace him in their lineup, with receivers and tight ends across the offense being counted on to make plays in place of the team's 1,000-yard receiver. Per Pro Football Focus, the Colts had a season-high six dropped passes on Sunday. 

"We adjusted when we heard (Pittman was out), and we went from there," Steichen said. "We had full confidence in the guys who were out there, and we just didn't get it done."

The Colts' confidence in guys like Montgomery, Pierce and Josh Downs is still high, with those players all delivering in key moments at times this season. 

"Pitt's been so good for us this year, and we'll continue to be excited to get him back," Minshew said. "But it's next man up — I have a lot of confidence in this guys that are in there, A.P., D.J., J.D. We just gotta figure it out and find a way."

4. The Falcons' plan on to attack the Colts' defense worked.

The Colts allowed a season-high 18 plays that gained 10 or more yards, and 17 of the Falcons' 23 first downs came on first or second down. While Atlanta went five of 13 on third down, one of those five conversions came on a third-and-14 just after the Colts kicked a field goal to bring the score to 20-10 in the third quarter.

Running back Bijan Robinson gained 122 yards on 20 touches, and quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 23 of 33 passes (69.7 percent) for 229 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 99.2. Heinicke opened the Falcons' scoring with a 24-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Pitts, and running back Tyler Allgeier ripped off a 31-yard touchdown to begin the second half.

Robinson forced 11 missed tackles on his 22 touches, per Pro Football Focus, a season high for the top-10 pick from Texas. The Falcons consistently were able to get Robinson in space, allowing him to

"He's an exceptional athlete. I gotta give him credit — I talked to him after the game and told him how much I respect him," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "He's a good player, he's capable of making people miss in space, start and stop — he's a hell of a player. I think we could've done a better job of containing him, honestly, but he made plays and that's what good players do."

The Colts' defense, too, wasn't able to generate the kind of game-wrecking plays they had in previous weeks. Entering Week 16, the Colts were third in the NFL in both sacks and takeaways; they had just one sack and saw their takeaway streak end at 19 games. 

"They had a great plan to slow us down," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "Obviously they're a great run team, so you gotta respect the run, the outside zone, so they married a lot of their play actions with outside zone and they even switched up with some max protections or some full slide protections to get us out of our flow, and also get the ball out of Heinicke's hand quick. The times he did hold it, it was max protection, or there were a couple times in two minute where we gotta take advantage of our opportunities when we get one-on-one. There were times where he did hold it for a quick second, he had that hitch, he held it and we weren't there. Those opportunities you gotta be there to make the play."

View in-game highlights from the Colts matchup versus the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Christmas Eve.

5. Lost in the shuffle, the Colts did set an Indianapolis-era record.

The Colts only recorded one sack – defensive end Kwity Paye dropped Heinicke just behind the line of scrimmage early in the second quarter – but it did set an Indianapolis-era record. 

  1. 2023: 47 sacks
  2. 2005: 46 sacks
  3. 1989: 46 sacks
  4. 2004: 45 sacks
  5. 2022: 44 sacks

The Colts' all-time sack record is held by the 1975 team, which totaled 59. The Colts also had 57 sacks in 1964 and 56 in 1976. 

Paye, too, now has 8.5 sacks on the season, one sack behind fellow defensive end Samson Ebukam for the team lead.

Related Content

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Our 2024 schedule is set! Secure your seats to all home games at Lucas Oil Stadium now.