HOUSTON — Down 20-3 in the fourth quarter, the Colts' offense went to its fastball.
"Most teams are thinking pass in that situation," center Ryan Kelly said, "even us."
Usually, when chasing a three-score deficit, teams have to resort to solely throwing the ball. It conserves clock and gives them the best opportunity to pick up the kind of explosive gains that could get them back into the game. So the calls are almost always: Pass, pass, pass.
Unless you have Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor rushed nine times for 70 yards with a touchdown in the fourth quarter, helping erase that 17-point deficit and send Week 1 into overtime, where the Colts tied the Texans, 20-20, on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
"Tell me who else has that many runs in the fourth quarter when you're down 17 points," Reich said.
The answer (which we looked up on Pro Football Reference's Stathead database) is full of garbage-time plays and quarterback scrambles. So let's dig a little deeper: With just under four minutes to go and the Colts down by seven, after quarterback Matt Ryan found wide receiver Mike Strachan for a 16-yard gain, these were the next four plays:
- Jonathan Taylor 9-yard run
- Jonathan Taylor 13-yard run
- Jonathan Taylor 13-yard run
- Jonathan Taylor 14-yard run
Taylor gained 49 yards on those four runs; no running back in the entire 2021 season gained more rushing yards while down by seven with under four minutes remaining. Only Minnesota's Dalvin Cook (seven carries, 46 yards) and Tennessee's Derrick Henry (five carries, 17 yards) carried the ball more in that specific situation than Taylor did _in one game. _
"That's one of the things I'm trying to continue to learn," Reich said, "is that when you've got a player like J.T., even though you're down 17, you just learn over the years, 'hey, you don't have to go exclusively to the pass.'"
After those four Taylor runs, which took the Colts to the red zone at the two-minute warning, Reich dialed up a play-action pass from Ryan to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. that went for a 15-yard, game-tying touchdown.
It goes against conventional wisdom – again, unless you an unconventional offensive weapon in Taylor, who has the ability to generate explosive plays every time he touches the ball.
"I think (Reich) had enough confidence in us where there's enough time on the clock for us to go down there and hopefully get a touchdown," Kelly said. "Once we get in that rhythm of running the ball, it seems like JT only gets better as defenses get more tired.
"Guy's a beast."
It felt like in 2021, every week was another opportunity to find a new way to describe how remarkable a player (and person) the Colts have in Taylor. One game into 2022 – in which Taylor rushed 31 times for 161 yards with a touchdown – we already found another way.
"He's the best player in the NFL," Pittman said. "He's always the best player on the field. We have so much confidence in him that he's going to win games for us. Put the ball in his hands."