Shane Steichen challenged his team before kickoff: Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans as going to come down to somebody making the play.
On fourth and 1 halfway through the fourth quarter, with the ball five yards from Lucas Oil Stadium's north end zone, the Colts needed somebody to make the play.
Everyone in the stadium knew who the Titans would trust in that spot.
"They're going to think players, not plays," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "They were gonna give it to 22."
"You knew they were going to give it to Derrick Henry," added defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
The Titans, of course, gave the ball to their three-time Pro Bowl running back. Buckner hit him low. Franklin hit him high, piledriving Henry into the turf just shy of the 10-yard line for a turnover on downs.
"One on one in the hole with supposedly the best running back in the league," Franklin said, "and I won. So what's that make me?"
Franklin and Buckner made the play. The one Steichen talked about prior to the game. But stuffing Henry wasn't the end of it for the Colts.
After the turnover on downs, running back Zack Moss and quarterback Gardner Minshew engineered a 14-play, 84-yard drive. It took seven minutes and three seconds off the clock. By the time Matt Gay's chip shot field went through the uprights, the Titans were left with no timeouts and about a minute to drive the length of the field for a game-tying touchdown.
Safety Julian Blackmon picked off quarterback Ryan Tannehill, sealing the Colts' first win over the Titans since 2020 and the team's first win at Lucas Oil Stadium in nearly a year.
"Man, it was a team win," Franklin said. "That's what we needed. I know we owed our fans a win. It's been a long time. They've been faithful and they've been believing in us, they've been packing this house and making noise for us. And we owed them that. That was for them today."
View in-game highlights as the Colts take on the Tennessee Titans in an AFC South matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 8.
The Colts improved to 3-2 on the season and 2-1 in the AFC South, with a pivotal trip to Jacksonville to face the co-division-leading Jaguars on tap a week from Sunday. Through the first quarter-ish of this 17-game season, the Colts are proving to be a relentlessly tough team – and one that can win games in different ways with that toughness an undercurrent.
Against the Houston Texans in Week 2, it was Anthony Richardson putting on a show and Minshew steering the game in his absence. Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, it was a gritty showing on both sides of the ball with Matt Gay delivering a historic performance. And against the Titans in Week 5, it was the defense steeling itself against the hard-running Henry, limiting him to just 3.3 yards per carry, then playing the kind of complementary football coaches dream of to close out the game.
"I think coach Shane is doing a hell of a job with every dynamic of the team – special teams, offense, defense," cornerback Kenny Moore II said. "For us to go out there and play clean, smart situational football and us to go out there and be on the attack. I like the way coach Shane is going about leading this team."
Moss ripped off a career high 173 yards with two touchdowns against a Titans defense that hadn't allowed an opposing running back to hit triple digits since the 2021 season. Rookie wide receiver Josh Downs snagged all six of his targets for 97 yards. The offensive line opened up lanes and protected both quarterbacks.
Minshew stepped in after Richardson exited the game with a right shoulder injury and efficiently completed 11 of 14 passes for 155 yards while not putting the ball in harm's way. After the game, Steichen was asked if he thought Minshew was the NFL's best backup, and responded: "Yeah, to me he is."
Minshew did more than steady the ship on Sunday, he made critical throws, like a first-down-converting third-and-six strike to wide receiver Alec Pierce delivered a split second before being crunched by defensive lineman Denico Autry.
Gay connected on all three of his field goals, making sure several drives ended with points against a rugged Titans defense. And the Colts' defense continued to play with physicality and discipline for 60 minutes.
"That's the essence of four quarters of football in all three phases," center Ryan Kelly said. "It's an exciting time."
The Colts made the plays in every phase on Sunday. Just like Steichen challenged them to.
"Shane does a really good job of empowering guys, giving them the motivation to go out there and trust themselves, trust their ability," Kelly said. "I think you saw it across the board. Everybody played great."