Maybe one of these weeks the Colts won't need Matt Ryan to lead a fourth-quarter comeback to earn a victory. But while they have one of the most prolific, reliable late-game playmakers in NFL history – in a parity-fueled league where one-score games are the norm – it sure pays to have Matty Ice on your side, right?
Ryan put an exclamation point on the 37th game winning drive (fourth all-time) and 44th fourth quarter comeback (sixth all-time) of his career on Sunday with a 32-yard touchdown strike to rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce with 23 seconds left, netting the Colts a 34-27 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I say it every week, he's unflappable," head coach Frank Reich said. "He wants the ball in his hands. He's at his best, makes his best throws, his best decisions. He's done that for 15 years. I mean, there's something – there's something wired in his DNA that's just different in that way."
The Colts were in a position to win a high-scoring game against a Jaguars team that shut them out, 24-0, in Week 2, though, because of the plays Ryan and the offense made over the 59 1/2 minutes before Pierce Mossed cornerback Shaquill Griffin for his first career touchdown.
Ryan completed a career high 42 passes as the Colts' offense on the accelerator and went up-tempo at times against a Jaguars front that looked gassed as the afternoon progressed. And the Colts' offensive line, which allowed five sacks in Week 2, kept Ryan upright throughout the day – for the first time in 2022, Ryan was not sacked.
The Colts emphasized tempo in practice this week not only to neutralize Jacksonville's front-seven gremlins – like Josh Allen and Travon Walker – but to dictate the game on offense. Accelerating the pace of the game and having Ryan complete so many passes while doing so kept the Jaguars from subbing on defense, leading to tired pass rushers and advantageous matchups for the passing game.
Ryan's average time to throw was a season-low 2.37 seconds, per Pro Football Focus, and he completed 72 percent of his passes.
"It was a good change of pace for us," Ryan said. "I thought we played with good tempo – used the speed when we needed it, but also we were able to check out of some things and get into some looks that we wanted to get into. I thought Frank did a great job calling it today."
Most importantly for the Colts' offense, though, was that they avoided the kind of self-inflicted mistakes that muted their point totals over the first five weeks of the season. There were no turnovers. The Colts were penalized three times on offense, and overcame one of those – a Dennis Kelly holding penalty on a goal-to-go down – to score a touchdown when Parris Campbell grittily got the ball over the goal line.
And the Colts converted 10 of 15 third downs despite needing, on average, 7.8 yards to gain on those in large part because the pass protection held up so well.
"The O-line was special," Reich said.
The Colts take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC South matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And the other part of it was Ryan spreading the ball around to pass-catchers who were either open or made tough, rugged catches to move the chains. Michael Pittman Jr. caught three passes for first downs, while Campbell, Pierce and Kylen Granson each had a pair of third down conversions.
So the Colts showed the kind of offense they could be if they just played a clean game. And they did it without their top two running backs in Jonathan Taylor (ankle) and Nyheim Hines (concussion), though Deon Jackson had a fantastic day (10 catches, 76 yards; 12 carries, 42 yards, one touchdown) in place of those guys.
The Jaguars, too, entered Week 6 fourth in the NFL in points allowed (16) and eighth in yards per play allowed (5.1); the Colts racked up 34 points and averaged 5.9 yards per play.
So while the Colts' defense allowed a season-high 27 points, it was the offense that came through to power Sunday's win.
"Sometimes we're gonna carry it, sometimes they're gonna carry it," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "They had our back today for sure. Shoutout to Matty, shoutout to Alec and Pitt and Deon — all those guys played great today."
At 3-2-1, and 1-2-1 in the AFC South, the Colts hardly feel like they've arrived after sending the Jaguars to a 2-4 record. Next up is a road date with the 3-2 Tennessee Titans in Nashville, a game that carries about as much early-season importance as a matchup in Week 7 can carry. But in beating the Jaguars on Sunday, the Colts showed they can be a force when the gameplan, the protection and the execution are all where they need to be on offense.
"I think we're definitely headed in the right direction," Pittman said. "I would like to be able to win a game and not have to go down in two-minute and win it, but that's just NFL football. That's how it shakes out. And most games, I feel like we keep showing that we can win those critical situations because we pretty much do it every win we've had, we've ran down there and scored a last-minute touchdown. It shows we can battle it out."