Jonathan Taylor had a transcendent 2021 season, leading the league in rushing yards and touchdowns by a wide margin and proving to be a true home run threat each and every time he touched the ball.
Accordingly, expectations were high for the talented Indianapolis Colts running back heading into the 2022 season. A 161-yard rushing performance by Taylor Week 1 against the Houston Texans did little to temper those expectations.
But a myriad of issues since that game — most notably, a nagging ankle injury — resulted in a frustrating first half of the season for Taylor and the Colts' running game. Last week, Taylor was forced to sit out his third game of the year, just hoping that a little extra time away would aid in recovering the explosiveness needed to return to form sooner rather than later.
Taylor was back in the Colts' lineup on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, and was well on his way to a solid outing after collecting 54 rushing yards in the first half of this Week 10 matchup at Allegiant Stadium.
But all it took was one play late in the third quarter to remind everybody that Taylor is one of the most dangerous offensive weapons the league has to offer.
With the Colts trailing by one, 14-13, with 1:12 remaining in the third quarter, they faced a 2nd and 6 from their own 34-yard line. Taylor took the handoff from quarterback Matt Ryan, utilized some excellent blocking up front to reach the second level, and turned on the jets from there, out-sprinting the rest of the Las Vegas defense to the end zone to complete the 66-yard touchdown run — the Colts' longest play from scrimmage so far this season.
The play would be a key contributor to Indy's 25-20 road victory in Jeff Saturday's debut as the Colts' interim head coach.
"You know they're few and far (between), so you always appreciate them when you get them," Taylor said of the big-play touchdown run. "Definitely guys did a great job up front blocking the guys, cutting the backside off — then, after that, they always leave one for the backs, and then it's my job to make the safety miss, so you've got to make him miss."
Taylor, in all, carried the ball 22 times for 147 yards (6.7 average) and that aforementioned touchdown on Sunday; he was also targeted two times in the passing game, hauling in receptions on both targets for 16 yards.
In fact, Taylor's effort in the passing game was crucial to setting up Indy's first touchdown of the night, as his reception and second effort on 3rd and 4 from the Las Vegas 5-yard line netted four yards and set up 1st and Goal from the 1. Ryan would sneak it into the end zone on the next play to give Indy a 7-0 lead with 3:21 left in the first quarter.
Whether it was getting yards the tough way, or it was breaking into the open field, Taylor said it was important for the Colts as a team to showcase its resilience after a rough last couple weeks, in which the team parted ways with head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, and brought in a team legend in Saturday who has more than enough credibility from his playing days, but was yet to have coached a single NFL or college game prior to Sunday's contest against the Raiders.
"After what we've been through, it's kind of that first kind of test on, 'Hey, how are we going to respond?'" Taylor said. "You know, it's been a lot of changes going on and a lot of new adaptations that we've had to face throughout this past week. So it's the first test on, 'How are we going to respond to everything on the outside?'"
The response, at least from an offensive perspective, was the Colts' most well-rounded performance of the season. With new a new offensive playcaller in pass game specialist and assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier, Indy had 20 first downs — eight via the run and 10 via the pass — and converted 6-of-11 third downs, a week after being unable to convert a single third down on 14 tries. The Colts had 415 total net yards of offense, including 207 on the ground and 208 through the air, and limited the mistakes better than they had in most other games this season, committing just one turnover and allowing just one sack.
"When you think about the plays that were there to be made, they were there to be made," Saturday said. "And so, that's all you can do from a coaching perspective, is put it in the players' hands and allow them to execute. And those guys executed really, really well."
View the game action unfold as the Colts take on the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium during Week 10.