1. Matt Ryan's resiliency shined late in the game.
Matt Ryan was sacked five times and hit six times over the course of Sunday's game, but didn't flinch when the Colts needed a game-winning drive.
The Colts took over possession down by four with 8:38 left in the fourth quarter following Chiefs kicker Matt Ammendola's missed 34-yard field goal. What followed was a 15-play drive (17 if you count penalties) that ended with Ryan finding rookie tight end Jelani Woods for a game-winning 12-yard touchdown.
On the drive, Ryan completed eight of 10 passes for 55 yards and added a two-yard QB sneak to convert a fourth down. And it's one thing to be given a second chance – which the Colts were when defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following a sack on third down – but it's another to actually take advantage of that opportunity.
"When you look at over the last few years, we've had some moments in the fourth quarter where we just didn't make some plays like we made today to win a game," head coach Frank Reich said. "It doesn't matter that there were some ugly series or there were a couple fumbles and at times the protection wasn't what it should be, and it wasn't only on – they had some pressures. I've got to look at all the film on why, and we'll get that cleaned up, but Matt, like I said, the guy is unflappable."
Ryan was credited with the 43rd game-winning drive of his career, tied for sixth-most all time and placing him behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino.
Back in March, when the Colts' trade for Ryan was still fresh, Reich talked about his excitement of adding the longtime Atlanta Falcons quarterback. On a late-September Sunday, we saw Reich's spring excitement play out in real time.
"(He shows) the ability to carry a team in those moments when you need to carry a team," Reich said. "One of the quote-un-quote unique stats that jumps out about Matt is how many fourth quarter winning drives he's had."
2. The Colts got big-time contributions from two rookies on offense.
Drilling deeper into that game-winning drive: With 75 seconds left and the ball at Kansas City's 26-yard line, Ryan put faith in two rookie pass-catchers.
On second and seven, Ryan connected with wide receiver Alec Pierce on a well-timed stop route for a gain of 14 – Ryan threw the ball while Pierce's back was still turned to the play, and Pierce did well to come down with a leaping catch at the 12-yard line. He targeted Pierce on the next play, though cornerback Jaylen Watson broke up the pass.
Then, on second and 10, Ryan found 6-foot-7 tight end Jelani Woods matched up man-to-man against 6-foot-0 safety Juan Thornhill and threw an accurate ball Woods came down with for the game-winning touchdown.
"I have a lot of belief in those guys," Ryan said. "I really think they're going to be good players in this league. They've shown it on the practice field. Maybe haven't seen it as much in the games to start this year, but I really think there's going to be a lot of improvement from them, but they stepped up, and the one thing, you just don't know until you're in those situations if guys have no flinch, and they just keep battling. Both those guys showed that today."
Pierce finished with three catches on five targets for 61 yards – 30 of those yards came on a go ball in the second quarter – while Woods became the 43rd rookie tight end since 1950 to have two touchdowns in a single game.
"That's the player we expect Jelani to be," Reich said. "Make the big play. He's a big man, and he's fast. You could just see his growth and maturity in the offseason, in training camp, especially when Drew (Ogletree) got hurt and a little bit more pressure put on him to come through, he's just continued to get better every week, and really happy for Jelani.
"... Big day for Alec. The go ball, that's what he's here for, to make more of those, and then made the play down there on that last drive, that was a big throw and catch. So good day for two rookie skill players."
The Colts take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the first home game of the season at Lucas Oil Stadium.
3. The Colts got a big-time contribution from a rookie on defense, too.
Safety Julian Blackmon sustained an ankle injury midway through the second quarter and was replaced by Rodney Thomas II, the 2022 seventh-round pick (No. 239 overall) from Yale.
Thomas, defending a passing offense that consistently makes opponents pay for coverage busts with downfield shots, played 35 coverage snaps against the Chiefs. He was targeted twice – first, on Kansas City's two-point conversion attempt that resulted in a lengthy review and ultimately a "call stands" decision; second, on a deep shot to wide receiver Justin Watson.
While that second play didn't wind up counting in the box score – the Chiefs were flagged for offensive holding – it was a remarkable display of instincts and athleticism from the rookie safety. Thomas picked up Watson running a deep seam route over the middle as Mahomes stepped up in the pocket, flipped his hips inside and went into a full sprint from the near-side numbers at the 35-yard line to nearly the far-side hashmark at the 20-yard line to break up the pass.
According to PFF, Thomas hit a top speed of just over nine miles per hour when he dove to swat away the pass.
The Colts saw athleticism and ball skills when they drafted Thomas this spring – he had a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and a 41-inch vertical leap at his pro day – and, on Sunday, saw those traits show up in a big way when they needed a next man up.
4. Individually, plenty of players stood out on defense – leading to a collectively outstanding day for Gus Bradley's group.
A couple of guys who stood out on Sunday:
- Linebacker Zaire Franklin, who had a team-high 12 tackles and stuffed the stat sheet with a QB hit, a TFL and a pass break-up;
- Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who tipped the game-winning interception to Rodney McLeod Jr. and made a key tackle short of the sticks on tight end Travis Kelce in the first quarter;
- Defensive tackle Grover Stewart, who again keyed a stifling day for the Colts' run defense in the interior of the line;
- Defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue, Kwity Paye and Ifeadi Odenigbo, who combined for 12 total pressures; Ngakoue notched the Colts' lone sack.
But collectively, the Colts executed defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's game plan well against an efficient, explosive Chiefs offense that stresses opposing defenses before and after the snap.
"It was a great game plan. Gus did a great job," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "There were a lot of checks. A lot of mental gymnastics for us on the field trying to get everything right and be in the right spots. But we had great communication, elite communication."
Mahomes' average time to throw was 3.12 seconds, the third-highest among quarterbacks in Week 3 (Mahomes entered the game with the sixth-lowest average time to throw in the NFL at 2.52 seconds). He was pressured on 15 dropbacks, per PFF, and in true Mahomes fashion he escaped a sack on all but one of those plays – but also wasn't able to hit the kind of bunch of off-schedule, game-wrecking downfield throws for which he's become known.
When Mahomes did try to get the ball out quick, he frequently had to hitch, allowing the Colts' pass rush a split-second longer to put pressure on him. That pressure was applied with strong second effort and discipline, and didn't allow Mahomes many opportunities to break contain vertically or horizontally.
And the combination of sound coverage early in downs and sticky plaster coverage later in downs helped the Colts put pressure on him with just their defensive line – Bradley only called for two blitzes on Mahomes' 46 dropbacks.
Add in the Colts' limiting the Chiefs to 2.5 yards per carry and the result was just the sixth time Kansas City was held under 20 points since Mahomes took over as QB1 in 2018.
"Defensively, it was just a great effort," Reich said. "I mean, a really great effort. I don't think I've ever seen anyone rush Mahomes that well, even though it might have only been one sack, but we had him on the run. We had him in the well. He didn't escape and make a bunch of big plays. Real credit to our D-line and our defense and what we did there. I thought we played coverage exceedingly well. I thought Gus and the defensive staff had a great game plan.
5. Bubba Ventrone's special teams units flexed their muscle.
The Chiefs had seven possessions begin after a Colts kickoff or punt, and on average started those possessions at their own 22-yard line. Those drives went:
|Obtained||Starting field position||Plays||Yards||End result|
|Punt||KC 46||2||-4||End of half|
|Kickoff||KC 31||15||62||Field goal|
|Kickoff||KC 12||7||53||Missed field goal|
That's three points when the Colts made the Chiefs drive the length of the field (Kansas City's two touchdown drives came when they gained possession at the Colts' 35- and 21-yard lines, respectively, following fumble recoveries). The Colts' kickoff and punt coverage units played well, and it shouldn't be lost how much the personnel on those units changed over since the end of the 2021 season.
It's not just having a new kicker handling kickoffs (Chase McLaughlin in for Rodrigo Blankenship/Michael Badgley) and punter (Matt Haack in for Rigoberto Sanchez). New-in-22 cornerback Tony Brown, linebacker Grant Stuard and linebacker JoJo Domann played all eight of these kick/punt coverage snaps; Brown assisted on two special teams tackles while Stuard had one.
If you're going to take down a Chiefs team that's made two Super Bowls and four AFC Championships in the last four seasons, you're going to need a complete team win. And while there were some more obvious splash plays by Ventrone's special teams unit – like Kylen Granson's recovery of a muffed punt and sound defense of a fake field goal attempt – the field position battle carried plenty of importance, too.
"Special teams came up huge," Reich said. "The muffed punt, the fake field goal that we denied, the punt downed on the 1, good coverage on kickoffs. Really good."
The Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-17 in Week Three of the 2022 season.