Jonathan Taylor bounced from media obligation to media obligation, the kind of thing superstar players do after nationally-televised primetime games, in the wake of another staggering performance in the Colts' 45-30 win over the New York Jets Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. In each one, the second-year running back took the spotlight being shined on him and held up a mirror to reflect it back on to his teammates.
And that even went for a former teammate of his. When Taylor heard he hit a top speed of 22 miles per hour on his 78-yard touchdown run — the fastest speed a ball carrier has reached this season — he gave a shoutout to Isaac Guerendo, a running back at Wisconsin (and an Avon High School alum) who hit 23 miles per hour one summer in Madison.
"Ever since then I've been trying to turn and hit 23," Taylor said.
That's coming from a guy whose speed fellow running back Nyheim Hines described as "deceptive" and center Ryan Kelly said is "undervalued."
The kind of player Taylor has become in Year 2 is clear. His vision, toughness, acceleration, speed and patience again propelled him to a supernova performance, with 172 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns against the Jets in Week 9. He now owns the two longest running plays in the NFL this season (83 and 78 yards) and leads the league with 1,114 yards from scrimmage.
Now past the halfway point of the 2021 season, there's a very real chance for Taylor to compete for the NFL rushing title. He's averaging 5.9 yards per carry and is on pace to eclipse 250 carries this season; if he hits both of those numbers, he'd become just the sixth player in NFL history to do so.
"He's going crazy," Hines said.
But while Taylor aspires to be great, certainly, he entered 2021 with more team-oriented goals, and those have not changed nine games in to what's already been a wildly successful sophomore season.
"I was going to say, definitely winning it all," Taylor said. "But I wanted to be a player that was available and ready at any and all times. If a coach needed me, we needed one yard like, "Hey JT game is on the line. We need one yard." I wanted to be that reliable player this year. Know that coach, I have your back. Teammates, I have your back. If you guys need to lean on me, I'm your guy."
The Colts have a rich tradition at running back, from Lenny Moore to Eric Dickerson to Marshall Faulk to Edgerrin James — all Hall of Famers. Taylor now has three games with 150 or more rushing yards and two or more rushing touchdowns, more than Dickerson (two), James (two), Faulk (one) and Moore (one) had with the Colts.
Taylor looked genuinely surprised to learn that fact in the early hours of Friday morning, but quickly deflected that praise on to the other 10 guys on the field for each of his 140 carries in 2021.
"That's a testament to the O-line and the receivers," Taylor said. "I don't think the receivers get a lot of love. You guys saw it a little bit in the Baltimore game on that screen pass. The receivers are the guys who really get those explosive plays. The line gets it going and they get you started, but the receivers are the guys who really spring you.
"It's a big testament to the type of receivers we have. You guys see them making plays down the field, through the air, but not a lot of people are noticing what they are doing on the run-game side."
And Taylor isn't just parrying attention for the sake of it — the physical blocking on the perimeter delivered by guys like Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal and Ashton Dulin has been critical in helping him turn seven or eight yards into 70 or 80. The Colts have a mentality of "11 as one in the run game," Kelly said, emphasizing the need for every player on the field to do his job to churn out those morale-crushing explosive run plays.
Since the start of October, Taylor leads the NFL in both running plays of 10+ yards and 20+ yards; three of those 20+ yard rushes have now gone for touchdowns.
"When he gets to the second level, I feel like it's going to the house," head coach Frank Reich said. "He's just fast, strong and elusive. Playing really good. Our receivers really work hard down the field so they're going to get him all the help he can have down there."
And it's not just the offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers — quarterback Carson Wentz checked the Colts into some advantageous running plays on Thursday, properly reading the defense in front of him and calling for the ball to get in Taylor's hands. One of those run checks came on Taylor's 21-yard touchdown, his first of the game.
But let's go back to Taylor's speed. When he needs to make a defensive back miss — as he did with Jets safety Ashtyn Davis on his 78-yard touchdown Thursday — his combination of size (226 pounds) and speed puts those last-line-of-defense opponents in extremely difficult positions.
"You look at him and he's a big back," Kelly said, "but his ability to run and create DB (missed tackles) and have to take really, really deep pursuit angles to get to him just adds more yards."
There is no limit, seemingly, on what Taylor can do, armed with his own skillset and an offense stocked with nasty, physical blockers from sideline to sideline. Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay said back in August that if Taylor is dreaming about a gold jacket, "he's having the right dream."
Right now, though, Taylor's dream is to just help the Colts win. With more game like the one he had Thursday against the Jets, he'll continue to do that — and pick up plenty more accolades than just AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors along the way.
"He can do it between tackles, he's physical, he's downhill, he can slash," Wentz said. "Then you get him out in space, nobody's catching him."