MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Mo Alie-Cox credits his former basketball coach at VCU, Shaka Smart, with instilling in him a sense of mental toughness that has served him well in his transition into the National Football League.
And, as Alie-Cox has learned, mixing that mental toughness with a little bit of patience can go a long way.
The big tight end has certainly had his flashes for the Colts' offense his first few years in the league — from his very first touchdown reception, a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab against the then-Oakland Raiders, to his fast start to the 2020 season. But he has also learned the importance of letting the game come to him; of staying strong in other areas, such as run blocking, and just staying ready for whatever opportunities come his way in the passing game.
Take last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans, for example. Twice head coach Frank Reich dialed up a screen play for Alie-Cox inside the Tennessee 5-yard line, but in both instances, the play was ultimately changed at the line of scrimmage due to the defensive look quarterback Carson Wentz was seeing.
On Sunday, however, all that patience paid off for Alie-Cox, who earned his first-career two-touchdown performance and helped Indy earn its first win of the season, 27-17, on the road against the Miami Dolphins.
"I really felt like it's been coming all year, and he and I have had those conversations once or twice," head coach Frank Reich said of Alie-Cox's breakout performance on Sunday. "Every week in practice, we're looking to get him the ball. We really think Mo's a good player. There's been a lot of stuff in the game plan for him over the first four weeks, and for whatever reason, the ball just hasn't gone to him as much as I would have thought it would at this point. So for him to have that game today, that was a lot of fun. Happy for him — he's an excellent football player."
After making the successful transition from physical post presence in college basketball to NFL tight end with the Colts, Alie-Cox has seen his role with the team evolve with each passing since since 2018. Last year was his best so far, as he finished with 31 receptions for 394 yards and two touchdowns.
Through the Colts' first three games of this season, however, Alie-Cox had been targeted just six times, catching three of them for 32 yards.
But, again, mental toughness and patience have been key for the Alexandria, Va., native.
Alie-Cox's first big play of the day on Sunday came late in the second quarter, as Wentz found him out in space on 2nd and 6 from the Indianapolis 49-yard line. The tight end rumbled his way forward for 28 yards; two plays later, running back Jonathan Taylor would run it into the end zone from 23 yards out to give the Colts a 7-3 lead.
Alie-Cox's two touchdowns, meanwhile, would both come in the second half. After Taylor was stuffed on a 2nd-and-Goal play from the Miami 3-yard line with 9:16 remaining in the third quarter, Alie-Cox just knew the ball was coming his way on third down.
He was right. Wentz, lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and immediately rolled out to his right, giving wide receiver Zach Pascal enough time to clear out room in the end zone for Alie-Cox, who was wide open in the front corner for an easy three-yard score.
"We worked on that play earlier in the week, we had great success with it, so once I saw we were at the 3-yard line (and) we had got stopped, I already knew what play was coming," Alie-Cox told Colts.com's Larra Overton. "So Coach called it, and Zach got me open and I just had to make the catch. It was simple."
Alie-Cox was able to show off a little bit on his second touchdown grab of the day. Facing 3rd and Goal from the 11-yard line with 6:20 left in the fourth quarter, Wentz liked the matchup of his big tight end against 6-foot-1 safety Eric Rowe. The quarterback delivered a perfectly-placed jump ball right out of the reach of Rowe and into the waiting big hands of Alie-Cox to give Indy a commanding 27-10 lead.
"He's a big man, and he plays big. He's a nice target in those situations, when it's 1-on-1," Wentz said of Alie-Cox. "They're not going to give us any easy throws, so if you can give him a shot like that, for him to come down with it that's huge for us."
For Alie-Cox, that touchdown was a bit of sweet redemption, after a similar play earlier in the game fell out of his grasp.
"It goes back to all the work that we put in in the spring. Even in the summer, we went down to Houston and got some work," Alie-Cox said of his chemistry with Wentz. "One of the first things he said when he saw me and Jack (Doyle), he was like, 'Jack, I'll probably put it more on you or in front of you; Mo, I've seen some of your clips, you can go up and get it.' So when he called the play, he told me, 'He's gonna play outside leverage. I'm going to put it on the inside and put it up there. Just go make a play.' And that's exactly what I did."
Alie-Cox on Sunday not only became just the seventh tight end in the NFL to record a two-touchdown game, but he's the first Colts tight end to accomplish that feat since Eric Ebron in Week 12 of 2018, also in a win over the Dolphins.