DETROIT — The Indianapolis Colts knew coming into Sunday's Week 8 matchup on the road against the Detroit Lions that it would be imperative to get out to a better start than they had in recent weeks, particularly in Weeks 5 and 6 against the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.
The Lions, who came into Sunday's game winners of two straight and three out of four overall, had outscored their opponents by a combined 25 points in the first quarter of their first six games, so the Colts wanted to avoid any early lulls at all costs.
Sure enough, though, safety Miles Killebrew would bust through to block a Colts punt on their second drive of the game, setting up Detroit with prime field position at the Indianapolis 36-yard line. Just two plays later, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford would find wide receiver Marvin Jones with a 25-yard touchdown throw, and Detroit was out to an early 7-0 lead.
But the Colts simply didn't blink from there.
Indy would use some huge plays both on offense and defense, as well as take advantage of some crucial Detroit mishaps, to score 20 points in the second quarter and 21 more points in the fourth, and flew home Sunday with a comfortable 41-21 road victory to improve to 5-2 on the year for a second straight season.
"Good win today," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "We talked really hard about playing good football for 60 minutes, putting good stuff on tape for 60 minutes, and, you know, like any football game we know there's going to be swings, highs and lows. I thought our guys handled that well.
"We get a punt blocked; nobody panicked," Reich continued. "That's what we wanna do: we want to just keep getting a little bit better every week, so really proud of the way the guys hung in there and played to the final whistle."
The Lions (3-4) took that aforementioned 7-0 lead into the second quarter, but by that point the Colts' defense had already made amends by forcing Detroit into a three-and-out on its next drive after the early touchdown.
Then Philip Rivers and the Colts offense started to go to work.
The veteran quarterback led a quick four-play, 61-yard scoring drive, connecting on passes of 15, 21 and 22 yards, the last of which was a touchdown throw to running back Nyheim Hines, who used a big block from wide receiver T.Y. Hilton along the sideline and showed off some nimble footwork from there to get the Colts into the end zone for the first time on the day.
That general sequence of events actually repeated itself two more times in the second quarter. The Lions punted after just four plays on their next drive, and then the Colts found the end zone again, thanks in large part to an unnecessary roughness penalty on defensive tackle Danny Shelton, turning what would've been a sure Colts punt into a back-breaking first down. Three plays later, Rivers would find Jack Doyle for a seven-yard touchdown — the veteran tight end's second straight game with a receiving score — and Indy, at 14-7, officially had its first lead of the game with 5:37 left in the second quarter.
The Colts wouldn't relinquish that lead the rest of the way.
They went into halftime with a 20-7 lead thanks to another Rivers touchdown pass to Hines, this time a 29-yard score, as a kick catch interference penalty on the Lions set up the Colts at the Detroit 48-yard line; Rivers needed just six plays and 2:50 to take advantage of that error.
Detroit made things interesting early in the third quarter before Indianapolis was able to pull away in the final period, as Stafford found running back Kerryon Johnson for a nine-yard touchdown pass on the Lions' first possession of the second half to cut the Colts' lead to six, 20-14.
But then the Colts' defense decided to slam the door shut.
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, playing on Sunday for the first time since Week 4 after working his way back from a groin injury, would break through on a blitz late in the third quarter, not only getting the sack on Stafford, his first of the year, but poking the ball loose, which was recovered by defensive end Justin Houston at the Indianapolis 40.
It was both the first lost fumble of the season for the Lions and the first fumble recovery of the year for the Colts.
Eight plays later, running back Jordan Wilkins punched it in from one yard out to put the Colts up 28-14 with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter. Yet again, the Colts took advantage of a critical Lions mistake on that drive, as Rivers, on 3rd and 14 from the Detroit 45, launched a pass deep towards speedy receiver Ashton Dulin near the end zone which fell incomplete, but a pass interference call on Detroit cornerback Justin Coleman set the Colts up with a 1st-and-Goal situation at the Lions' 4-yard line.
Kenny Moore II then put the nail in the coffin.
On the Lions' first play of the ensuing drive, the fourth-year Colts cornerback picked off Stafford's pass intended for Jones at the Detroit 29-yard line and ran it into the end zone from there, giving the Indy defense its third pick-six of the year — and, most importantly, giving the Colts a commanding 35-14 lead at the 13:26 mark of the fourth quarter.
The two teams would trade touchdowns the rest of the way — Trey Burton added a two-yard rushing touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, becoming the third tight end in NFL history, and first since 1968, to log a rushing touchdown in consecutive games — but the Colts would ultimately head home with the 20-point road win.
The Indianapolis offense overall was extremely efficient on the day, converting 7-of-14 third-down opportunities, moving the chains on its lone fourth-down attempt and also scoring touchdowns on all three trips inside the red zone.
Rivers followed up his best performance with the Colts in Week 6 against the Bengals with another strong outing Sunday against the Lions, completing 23-of-33 passes for 262 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a QB rating of 123.5. He completed passes to 11 different receivers; Hines finished with three receptions for a team-best 54 yards and two touchdowns.
Wilkins led the way on the ground for the Colts, finishing with 20 rushing attempts for 89 yards (4.5 avg.) and one touchdown.
The Colts' defense, meanwhile, had a downright dominant performance against the Lions' rushing attack, holding Detroit to 13 carries for just 29 yards (2.2 avg.) on the day. In fact, the Lions had just five rushing yards in the first half, the fewest yards allowed by the Colts in the first two quarters since at least 2000.
Leonard was terrific in his return to the lineup on Sunday, finishing with a team-best nine tackles with his aforementioned sack and forced fumble.
The Indy defense logged a season-best five sacks on the day, led by two each defensive tackle/ends Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis. The Colts also had nine tackles for loss, with two each coming from Autry, Lewis, linebacker Bobby Okereke and safety Khari Willis.
The Colts head back home next week, as they play host to the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium. Single-game tickets are on sale to the public at Ticketmaster.com.
The Ravens fell to 5-2 on the season today with a narrow 28-24 loss to the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.
See all the action at Ford Field as the Indianapolis Colts face the Detroit Lions in Week 8.