1. The Colts proved something important in Week 10.
With Sunday's 23-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts (5-5) are now back to .500. This win, then, represents an important marker on the Colts' climb – they were both 0-3 and 1-4 at points this season – not just in the result, but how the result happened.
"To be 5-5 is huge when you were sitting at 1-4 at one point," center Ryan Kelly said. "Those have been some growing pains that this team had to go through. I think that we continue to see when the offense is doing real well, carry the defense and vice versa. The defense kind of carried us a little bit today. I think we're starting to play complementary football. We've just got to put it all together for four quarters."
Ideally, the Colts could have a game where all three phases are firing for all four quarters. But the reality of the NFL is games like that are rare. And in 2021, we've witnessed plenty of upsets when teams don't play well in all three phases – Week 10 saw some relatively surprising results in games between teams with disparate records (like the Ravens losing to the Dolphins or Buccaneers losing to Washington).
Against that backdrop, the Colts' win over the Jaguars – in which Rigoberto Sanchez had more punts (seven) than the offense had third down conversions (four) – should be viewed as impressive. Because at this point in the season, there's no such thing as an unimpressive win. They're just wins.
"It's big, especially a divisional opponent," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Obviously at this point of the season to get back to .500, it's huge for us. It seems like we have been climbing out of this hole for a while now. It wasn't our best game out there, but to come out of it with a win is huge for us."
2. Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo – the Colts' first two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft – came up big.
Kwity Paye's seven pressures (per Pro Football Focus) were the second-highest total on the Colts' defense behind DeForest Buckner's eight. He notched his first career sack – "it felt good to get home," he said – and delivered three quarterback hits among those pressures.
And Dayo Odeyingbo's forced fumble with just over a minute left was the kind of clutch takeaway the Colts' defense has come up with over and over again this season.
"I've seen how hard (Odeyingbo) worked when he was trying to get back," Paye said. "Even though he was injured, he was on the sideline eager to come back and play with us. It feels great for him to come back on the field and make a huge play like that."
It's certainly notable that the Colts' first two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft both recorded their first sacks of the season in the same game, with Odeyingbo's sealing a victory and Paye's pass rushing work helping put his team in a position to win all afternoon.
"(They're) just getting better and playing with confidence," head coach Frank Reich said. "Just playing with the confidence - working really hard in practice, eager to just get better. Eager, what can I do to get better? Working hard. Great teammates. Great hustle. Everything you want, everything you want. Those guys are going to be good players and we're on the right track."
3. The Colts' defense came up big not only late in the fourth quarter, but in the second quarter, too.
The average starting field position for the Jaguars' five second quarter drive was their own 35-yard line. The first three of those possessions started at Jacksonville's 37, 38 and 43-yard lines as the Colts' offense stalled deep in their own territory after an explosive first quarter.
The Jaguars went three-and-out on four of those five second quarter possessions and managed a field goal on the fifth. The Colts' run defense, pass rush and coverage worked well together on those drives, especially on third down:
- First drive, third and 7: Taylor Stallworth quarterback hit forces an incompletion
- Second drive, third and 3: Kenny Moore II breaks up a pass intended for Marvin Jones
- Third drive, third and 1: Andrew Sendejo and Darius Leonard crash down to tackle Carlos Hyde for a one-yard loss
- Fourth drive, third and 2: Trevor Lawrence overthrows Jamal Agnew, who was tightly covered by Moore, with Paye providing good pressure off the edge
Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, by the way, has a field position chart that, in the second quarter, "we were living by it exactly," he said.
"We were punting the ball down in there, holding them, getting the ball back at about the 40-yard line and we didn't do anything with it. That's a problem."
That's also a tremendous credit to the Colts' defense.
4. Michael Pittman Jr. keeps making huge plays late in games.
Michael Pittman Jr.'s 27-yard reception with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter continued a trend that's emerged this season: He's one of the most productive late-game wide receivers in the NFL. Pittman now ranks 10th in the NFL in fourth quarter receiving yards (213), eighth in first downs (10) and sixth in explosive plays (6). Wentz has a passer rating of 114.1 when targeting Pittman in the fourth quarter, per PFF.
On that 27-yard snag, Pittman lined up in the slot to the field and sprinted toward the line to gain between the hashmarks. He turned his head about 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and saw Wentz get flushed out of the pocket to his right. Pittman immediately identified where he needed to go to get between the corner and safety toward the sideline.
"I just went vertical and I saw that Carson got pushed out, and I just kind of was running step for step with him," Pittman said, "and he made a great throw and put it right there that I had to catch it."
Wentz said he was a split-second away from just throwing the ball out of bounds until he saw Pittman flash open. But once again, Wentz's connection and trust in Pittman showed up when the Colts needed it.
"He comes up big play after big play, super reliable, dependable, gets open, especially in moments like that," Wentz said. "Obviously there he was open, but in moments when it's not necessarily open, you can give it to him. He continuously shows up and makes big plays. He earned my trust a long time ago and that's why you're seeing it out there on Sundays."
5. Zaire Franklin paid the Colts' defense back.
Our own Andrew Walker wrote about how Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone predicted Zaire Franklin's punt block six days before it happened – go read his story here on another huge play by the Colts' punt coverage team. But there is one other sub-plot to Franklin's blocked punt to highlight here.
Remember back in Week 3 when Franklin was called for roughing the kicker? The Colts' special teams captain went for a block and instead ran into Titans punter Brett Kern, turning a change of possession into a fresh set of downs for the Titans in a one-point game.
Franklin did not forget about it, and had been waiting for an opportunity to re-pay Rock Ya-Sin – who forced a fumble after that penalty in Week 3 – for picking up for him back in September.
"When I missed the block and I got the penalty, the D came to me and was like, 'Yo, Z, we got your back.' And they had my back," Franklin said. "So I was just glad I was able to get them back today."