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Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned, Colts vs. Broncos Week 5

The Colts beat the Broncos, 12-9, on Thursday night in Denver thanks to outstanding defense, a couple of clutch late-game drives by the offense and four high-pressure field goals by kicker Chase McLaughlin. 

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1. Injury updates on Nyheim Hines and Kwity Paye.

After taking a hit on the Colts' first possession, Hines wobbled after getting up and was immediately removed from the game, evaluated for a head injury and placed in the concussion protocol.

"We saw him wobble right away," head coach Frank Reich said. "All the coaches simultaneously were on the sideline, he's out. He's out."

Hines, though, was in good spirits when the Colts returned to the locker room at halftime, which was encouraging – but does not mean he's out of the concussion protocol.

"We come in at halftime and Nyheim is apologizing to me," Reich said. "He's apologizing to me. This is the mindset, right, because he felt great. At halftime, he already felt great. He wanted to come back in and play. He said, 'I feel fine. I've been hit way harder than that. I've been hit way harder than that.' That's the kind of competitor and warrior he is.

"Then, I think that's why there's been a lot of talk about, as coaches, we have to do the right thing because you have to protect players from themselves at times. That's a perfect example of an instance where you see him take a hit like he does, you know what kind of competitor he is, and he wants to get back in the game and he certainly seemed fine talking to him. Seemed totally normal, but you have to do the right thing."

Paye was carted off the field after sustaining an ankle injury in the third quarter. Reich said the Colts are still evaluating the severity of the injury, and if he'll need to be placed on injured reserve (which would keep him out of, at a minimum, the next four games). But Reich did say X-Rays on Paye's ankle came back negative.

2. The Colts had a shakeup on their offensive line.

The Colts rolled into Denver with changes to 60 percent of their offensive line, and this group starting:

  • LT: Bernhard Raimann
  • LG: Quenton Nelson
  • C: Ryan Kelly
  • RG: Braden Smith
  • RT: Matt Pryor

So Pryor moved from left tackle to right tackle, Smith kicked inside to right guard and Raimann sliding in at left tackle. And after Kelly left the game with a hip injury, Danny Pinter tagged in at center.

For Raimann, it was his first career start; for Smith, it was his first game playing guard since college.

Reich said as of Friday afternoon the Colts were still talking through their evaluation of how the new-look line performed.

"It was a big switch," Reich said. "We'll continue to re-evaluate that. I have not even had a chance to get with the staff yet and us talk through those kinds of issues. We've just been talking through the play by play, player by player, evaluating what happened in the game."

3. Matt Ryan didn't flinch and led consecutive game-tying and game-winning drives.

Ryan was sacked five times and threw two interceptions by the time the Colts took over possession at their own 20-yard line staring down a three-point deficit with no timeouts and 2:13 left. And none of those issues from the first 58 minutes of the game had a negative impact on what the veteran quarterback did to force overtime.

"I love this guy in the fourth quarter," Reich said. "The look in his eyes, that short conversation that we have, that determination I just feel like we're going to go down the field with score. I really do. He's going to make it work."

Ryan made it work, completing six of eight passes for 56 yards on that fourth quarter drive. But one of those incompletions was as important as the completions – with 13 seconds left and the Colts facing third and six at the Broncos' 13-yard line, Ryan rifled a pass through the uprights instead of forcing something to tight end Mo Alie-Cox or taking a sack. Chase McLaughlin connected on the game-tying field goal on the next play.

Then in overtime, Ryan completed four of four passes for 33 yards to help push the Colts into range for McLaughlin to connect on the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) 48-yard field goal.

Ryan now has three fourth quarter comebacks and two game-winning drives this year, bringing his career totals to:

  • 36 fourth quarter comebacks, tied with Drew Brees for fifth-most all-time
  • 44 game-winning drives, pushing him past Brett Favre for sixth-most all-time

"Obviously, we would love to be playing from the front," Ryan said. "Honestly, I just try to do the same thing every snap. Snap in and snap out from play one of the games and just try to be rock solid. I'm not going to flinch in those situations. I'm not going to get uptight, there is no reason to, you just keep on playing and you find a way. I have believed in that way throughout my career."

The Colts take on the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football at Empower Field at Mile High.

4. Without Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, the Colts' offensive weapons still got the job done.

Alec Pierce has continued to increase his usage and production in the Colts' offense over the last three games:

  • Week 3: 5 targets, 3 catches, 61 yards
  • Week 4: 6 targets, 4 catches, 80 yards
  • Week 5: 9 targets, 8 catches, 81 yards

Three of Pierce's catches and 33 of his yards against the Broncos came on the Colts' final two drives, with Ryan trusting him in some tight, difficult situations.

"It confirms what I thought," Ryan said. "I thought he was going to be a tough, resilient player. I thought he was going to be a gutting player, I knew he had great hands watching him. You just hoped he was a gamer, and he is, there is no doubt about it. He's so leveled when he is out there, never too high, too low. He just keeps competing. I'm proud of him."

It wasn't just Pierce, though. This was one of those games where Ryan had to spread the ball around, a directive emphasized even more by the pregame loss of Jonathan Taylor (ankle) and the in-game loss of Hines (concussion).

The Colts got key contributions in the passing game from Michael Pittman Jr. (five catches, 59 yards), Deon Jackson (four catches, 29 yards), Parris Campbell (two catches, 22 yards), Ashton Dulin (one catch, 18 yards) and Kylen Granson (one catch, 16 yards), among others. Last week, Alie-Cox exploded for 65 yards and two touchdowns; the week prior, Jelani Woods had two touchdowns to propel the Colts past the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Colts left Week 5 feeling confident in the offensive weapons they're developing – especially with two of their best playmakers sidelined for most or all of Thursday's game.

"You have to acknowledge the negative and what needs to get better, but you want to accentuate the positive in a win, and that is our young skill players," Reich said. "I think we came into the year wondering if we had enough at that position. I think we're starting to see – we've got a long way to go, but I think we're starting to see that the answer could be yes."

5. The Colts' defense dominated, and is getting key contributions from every position group.

From Stephon Gilmore to Rodney Thomas II to DeForest Buckner to Bobby Okereke to Yannick Ngakoue to Zaire Franklin to Dayo Odeyingbo to Kenny Moore II – you get the idea – the Colts had massive contributions from the majority of the players who took the field for Gus Bradley's defense on Thursday.

The Colts' defense didn't allow the Broncos to score a touchdown on any of their four red zone possessions, and held Denver to just two third down conversions in 15 tries. They're 11th in points allowed per game (18.8), seventh in yards per play allowed (4.9) and seventh on third down (31 percent).

But more than anything, the Colts' defense left Denver having done exactly what they wanted. With the game on the line, Gilmore came through to end the night with a pass break-up in the end zone on fourth and one in overtime.

"As a defense, that's what you want," Franklin, who leads the NFL with 54 tackles, said. "You want the game to be in your hands, you want it to be the last play, you want to end the game." 

As the Colts continue to figure out their identity on offense, having a defense capable of shutting down an opponent like this group did on Thursday is critically important.

"Lots to improve on offensively, defensively, special teams – we're a work in progress," Buckner said. "NFL is a marathon, not a sprint. We are not a finished product yet, we still getting better, and we won another this week. That's all that matters."

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