Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned: Colts vs. 49ers, Week 7

The Colts topped the San Francisco 49ers, 30-18, on Sunday night at Levi's Stadium. Get inside the Colts' win with this week's installment of 5 Things Learned. 

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1. Jonathan Taylor overcame early adversity.

Jonathan Taylor lost a fumble on the Colts' first offensive play of the game, which came with the San Francisco 49ers already holding a 6-0 advantage. 

But instead of letting that fumble unravel the remainder of the game — which was, effectively, the entire game — Taylor displayed some impressive mental toughness. 

"We knew we were going to have adversity," Taylor said. "You don't know what way shape or form it's going to come in, or if it's going to be you facing the adversity specifically or not. I know we all carry everything as a team. Then it just falls on you, how can I handle this adversity because my team is going to look at me and say, this guy, is he in a shell now, is he in his own head or is he going to be able to bounce back and be able to continue to play basically the whole game — I mean, it was the first snap. That was just my mindset on making sure that I'm not in some kind of trance and I can still focus for my team."

After Taylor's fumble, quarterback Carson Wentz walked over to him and said: "Hey, you're still the best guy on this field. You're going to get the ball over and over and create big plays." 

Taylor certainly proved his quarterback right, finishing with 107 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown. Through seven games, Taylor has 579 yards on 105 carries (5.5 yards/attempt) with five touchdowns; he also has 18 receptions for 213 yards with a touchdown, too. He's averaging 6.4 yards per touch — nearly one yard more than he had as a rookie (5.5). 

Stuff like this is important for any player. Things will go wrong at some point during a 17-game season. How a player responds to those things goes a long way to not only that player's individual success, but the success of everyone else around him. 

"Any given play handed to him I'm like, shoot, this thing could go the distance," Wentz said. "It's fun. It's fun to turn around and give it to a guy like that."

2. The defense finished things out in a big way.

After allowing a touchdown drive and field goals on consecutive drive after in the first quarter (one of which, to be fair, was in a sudden change situation), the Colts' defense held the 49ers in the second and third quarters to a net of 34 yards on 25 plays. Four of the 49ers' drives in that stretch ended in a punt, two ended in lost fumbles and another ended with the halftime whistle. 

But the 49ers' offense woke up in the fourth quarter with a three-play, 70-yard scoring drive ending in a rapid-fire touchdown. That score brought the 49ers within a two-point conversion of tying the game. 

And if you got worried a repeat of the fourth quarter in Baltimore was happening again, well, you weren't alone. 

"I ain't gonna lie," linebacker Darius Leonard said, "when they came out in the fourth quarter and they scored in three plays, first thing that went in my mind was 'oh, hell, here we go again.'"

Leonard swatted away Jimmy Garoppolo's pass on the ensuing two-point attempt. The 49ers took over down five after a clock-chewing drive ended in a Michael Badgley field goal — and San Francisco had a chance to take the lead with a touchdown. 

Xavier Rhodes then made sure the Colts wouldn't suffer the same fate they did in their last primetime game. His interception — about an inch away from being a pick-six — set up Wentz's 28-yard touchdown to Michael Pittman Jr. Khari Willis picked off Garoppolo on the 49ers' next possession to seal the Colts' win. 

And then for good measure, DeForest Buckner ended the game with a sack in a poetic, full-circle moment. 

The Colts, certainly, would've liked to not squander that 19-point second half lead against the Ravens in Week 5. But it happened, and all they could do — and can do — is make sure something like that didn't happen again. On Sunday night, guys like Rhodes and Willis and Leonard and Buckner made sure there was no repeating those mistakes. 

"That was great, coming to a hostile environment, game on the line, defense getting a stop," Leonard said. "It's definitely what we needed, especially after what we did on Monday night. We came down on Sunday night and finished the ballgame."

3. Xavier Rhodes, specifically, displayed remarkable toughness.

Rhodes exited Sunday's game for a handful of plays with a calf injury but fought through it to return and get that momentum-shifting interception. 

With the Colts already down three cornerbacks — T.J. Carrie is on injured reserve, Rock Ya-Sin was out and BoPete Keyes left the game with an injury — Rhodes' availability was critical on Sunday night. And before the game, Reich wasn't even sure if Rhodes would be available at all. 

"(It) didn't look like he was going to play," Reich said. "I don't know how he fought through it. He was limping around out there pretty bad. I'm not even sure how he was playing, and then he comes up with a big interception at the end. So real credit to him for his toughness and hanging in in a tough moment."

4. The takeaways keep coming.

From 2010-2020, 66 teams had a turnover differential of plus-nine or better. Fifty-six of those teams made the playoffs (85 percent). 

Why plus-nine?

That's the Colts' turnover differential through seven games. 

Only the Buffalo Bills (+11) have a better turnover differential than the Colts; the Colts' 16 takeaways are tied with the Bills for the league lead. 

And remember that goal of 40 takeaways players talked about in training camp?

The Colts are on pace for 39. 

"We talk about this all the time — how many hands do we get on the football at all times during practice, how many balls are we knocking down, how many are we intercepting in practice, how many are we getting out," Reich said. "There's a constant emphasis on it from the coaches, from the players. We talk about it all the time from up front, our double-positive motto and how important that is to winning games. But ultimately it's the credit of the players because it takes playmakers — those are the guys who get the ball out, guys who are playmakers and they're doing a very good job."

5. Don't forget about Mo Alie-Cox.

We dove into Michael Pittman Jr.'s game early Monday morning — he had a hand in all four of the Colts' touchdowns against the 49ers — so if you missed that story, check it out here. 

But I want to reserve this last Colts Thing for some appreciation for tight end Mo Alie-Cox. 

Alie-Cox caught his team-high fourth touchdown of the season on Sunday, and through seven games he's already doubled his career touchdown total. Alie-Cox has 13 receptions for 177 yards; over his last four games, he has 10 catches for 145 yards, and all four of his touchdowns have come in that span. 

The 28-year-old tight end has become one of Wentz's favorite targets in opposing territory, and their chemistry is continuing to trend upward as we near the midpoint of the 2021 season. 

"He has confidence in me and it's just very reassuring as a receiver that you know your quarterback has faith in you to go and make plays and he's just going to keep looking for you," Alie-Cox said last week. "I think that relationship is just going to keep getting stronger as we get more games in."

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