FRANKFURT, Germany – Shane Steichen drove home a message to his team in the visiting locker room underneath Frankfurt Stadium as the Colts celebrated a 10-6 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday.
"Get healthy," Steichen said, "and let's go make a run at this thing."
The Colts will return to central Indiana for their bye week a .500 team, and with seven games left in the 2023 season, there is absolutely a world where this group makes a playoff push between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Winning breeds confidence, of course, but that the Colts allowed just one touchdown and four field goals over their last 120 minutes of football – after their defense let up 35-plus points in three games prior – is boosting the Colts' vibes.
The point here, as running back Jonathan Taylor explained, is the Colts are not a one-dimensional team. They've won games with offense (like Week 2 over the Houston Texans), they've won games with special teams (like Week 3 over the Baltimore Ravens) and they've won games with defense (like Week 9 over the Carolina Panthers and Sunday over the Patriots).
And those pre-bye check marks are a foundation the Colts believe they can build on once they re-convene at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Being able to go into this week 5-5, two wins in a row," Taylor said, "now we can start stacking day by day, week by week."
In front of an electric crowd of 50,144 at Frankfurt Stadium – seriously, the crowd was _incredible _– the Colts on Sunday earned one of their grittiest wins in recent memory. Safeties Julian Blackmon and Rodney Thomas II recorded fourth quarter interceptions that first shifted the game – Blackmon's came just in front of the Colts' end zone – and then sealed it, with Thomas snagging a Bailey Zappe fake-spike-turned-throw with about 30 seconds remaining.
Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo had three sacks in the first half, and the Colts again saw the impact early pressure can have over the course of a game. While Mac Jones – who started the game and was replaced by Zappe for the final series – completed 15 of 20 passes, when the Patriots needed a completion in a critical spot, the Colts' defense responded with more pressure and, eventually, a turnover.
The Colts' run game only generated 70 yards on 26 rushing attempts, but wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce and Josh Downs each made spectacular individual plays to haul in throws from quarterback Gardner Minshew. Downs' in particular was massive: His 28-yard diving grab on a Minshew scramble drill eased the pressure, as the Colts were facing a third-and-five backed up on their own 10-yard line with just under three minutes left.
In the NFL's lowest-scoring game since Week 15 of the 2022 season, the result was always going to come down to which team had more players step up in high-leverage situations.
"We put ourselves in a great spot to make the playoffs," Downs said. "We just gotta go out there and finish like we did today. Get it done no matter how ugly it is, no matter how pretty it is — just get it done. We did that the last two weeks. Different guys step up and make different plays."
With their fifth victory, the Colts on Sunday surpassed 2022's win total and will return from the bye week firmly in the AFC playoff picture. And that matters as Steichen keeps building on the culture he's instilled in the Colts over his first year as the team's head coach.
"One of the best things we going right now is everybody's just invested in winning," Minshew said. "It doesn't matter how it happens, what it looks like. Everybody just wants to win."
So that puts the Colts in an encouraging position 10 games into the season. The belief this team has is real. And so is their opportunity to make a run at the playoffs over the next seven games.
"We're right in the thick of it," Steichen said. "And let's play our best football in November and December going forward."
View highlights from the Colts' matchup versus the New England Patriots in Germany at Frankfurt Stadium on November 12.