Frank Reich called for a final handoff to Jonathan Taylor on Sunday at Highmark Stadium, where the second-year running back had just carried 32 times for 185 yards and scored a franchise-record five touchdowns in the Colts' 41-15 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills.
Reich handed Taylor the game ball amid a juiced-up, emotional speech to his team. It meant a lot, of course, to Taylor — not for what he did, but for what "we" did.
"That's Jonathan," tight end Jack Doyle said. "He just got a game ball in the locker room and he's turning red. His speech is all about playing together.
"He just loves that aspect about football, he loves that it's a team game and he loves being a part of it. Obviously he's one of the best players in the NFL right now. But he's got a mentality that's going to take him a long way. He's just a fun guy to play with and be teammates with."
What Taylor did against the Bills, of course, was yet another remarkable showing for a guy who's made those a weekly staple in 2021.
The Bills entered Week 11 with what was regarded as the NFL's best defense — first in points allowed (15), third in yards allowed per rush (3.8), first on third down (29.8 percent), just to rattle off a few stats. They had only allowed two runs of 20 or more yards all season, and one was a scramble by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Bills had only allowed seven rushing touchdowns all season.
Taylor, on his own, scored 30 points. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry. He ripped off a 40-yard run (and followed it immediately with a 10-yard touchdown). The Colts were 8/12 on third down (67 percent), and Taylor converted four of those third down tries. He rushed for four touchdowns, and his 23-yard receiving touchdown was the second-longest passing score allowed by the Bills this season.
"He's going crazy," running back Nyheim Hines said. "He sent a message to the league."
Hey, maybe consider this guy for MVP.
Yes, only three non-quarterbacks have won the award in the last 20 years. The last one was running back Adrian Peterson in 2012. But Taylor's teammates are already asking the question for him — and it's something you'll surely see debated across national NFL shows this week.
"If there's any skill position," Hines said, "Jonathan Taylor needs to be in it."
The Colts knew they had to establish the line of scrimmage on Sunday to beat the Bills, a team that's been regarded as a Super Bowl favorite and entered Week 11 No. 1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA. The offensive line won up front, and Doyle had a number of strong, physical blocks to open holes for Taylor, too. And Taylor, who's so good at setting up his blocks, opening up lanes and bursting through them with speed and physicality, took advantage.
The Colts, too, had four takeaways on defense and special teams and turned those into 21 points — all, of course, touchdowns by Taylor.
So when Taylor was asked if he, the leading rusher in the NFL, is the Colts' offensive identity, he quickly deflected.
"The Colts' offensive identity is all of us all together," Taylor said. "Everything that you saw today was the culmination of the defense getting the ball back to us, creating turnovers, and then the offense being on one accord — being able to communicate no matter what front, what pressure they bring, being able to execute."
This is the thing with Taylor. He's as good a teammate as he is a player, and he's not someone who craves the spotlight — even when that spotlight, again, will include some MVP chatter.
"You get a sense of his confidence but you'd never know," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "You'd never know he was a superstar walking by him in the locker room or in the grocery store, whatever. He's just a low-key guy but he knows what he can do and he's confident in himself."
But it's that mentality that helps set the tone for the team the Colts aspire to be.
"I love him, we try to put attention on him and you can tell he's uncomfortable," Reich said. "I love that feeling. We'd all like to see someone who doesn't want the attention feel uncomfortable with the attention. I just think – the most important thing is like you said, not too high, not too low but you need everyone to embody that. When some of your best players and your leaders really believe that and live that out, that really helps matters. He's the perfect example of that. He's a great leader and a great player."
In that sense, Taylor is well-grounded and set up well to handle all the attention coming his way. This is a guy who used his speech after getting the Colts' game ball to talk about his teammates — and also shout out his high school alma mater, Salem (N.J.) High School, for winning a state title over the weekend.
And while Taylor might hear his name bubble up in MVP discussions this week, it's hardly something he's going to think about in the coming days and weeks.
"It's a prove-it league and you're only as good as your last snap so you can go out there next week and stink it up," Taylor said. "You gotta make sure you stay focused."