INDIANAPOLIS — One thing is for sure when discussing the Indianapolis Colts' offense: it is never better than when it's running the ball effectively.
On Sunday in their home finale at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Carolina Panthers, the Colts did just that, racking up 218 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as they punched the Panthers in the mouth, 38-6. It was the third time in 2019 that the team compiled at least 200 rushing yards in a game, achieving that feat for the first time since 1988.
It wasn't just one runner dominating the backfield, either, as running backs Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins combined for 179 yards and a pair of scores while quarterback Jacoby Brissett added a season-high 37 rushing yards and his own touchdown. For Wilkins, his 84 yards were a career high for a single game.
The Colts had struggled to establish the run in recent weeks, failing to reach 100 yards in the last three games against some tough run defenses. However, against a vulnerable opponent in the Panthers who ranked poorly in several defensive rushing categories, the Colts took advantage on Sunday.
"It just kinda shows the character of this team being able to come back from a frustrating last couple weeks," Colts right tackle Braden Smith told Colts.com after the game. "So coming out here and taking out our frustrations on them and having a good game against them, that's what we came here to do. Run the ball, pass the ball, win the game."
Entering the game, the Colts had a couple of significant milestones within reach. Needing just 81 more rushing yards, Mack was staring at his first-career 1,000-yard season, and with a 30-yard carry in the fourth quarter, the third-year back got there.
"It's great. Happy for myself, happy for the team. I just appreciate the O-linemen, man," Mack said after becoming the first Colts player to hit 1,000 rushing yards since his predecessor Frank Gore did it in 2016.. "It's a crazy experience. I'm truly grateful for it, thankful for it. O-linemen pretty much got me there. The holes were amazing today — wide open. So truly grateful for it, and thankful for them."
While a 1,000-yard season is technically an individual accomplishment on paper, Colts head coach Frank Reich knows that it is a testament to the entire offense working as one to get a running back to those types of milestones.
"It means a lot. Obviously, it means a lot to Marlon, but it means a lot to the offensive line any time you get a guy going over 1,000," Reich said. "It's a real credit to all of those guys, our receivers and tight ends. It's a total offensive-unit effort there and the defense getting us the ball back and getting us some carries. I'm just happy for Marlon. He's kind of had to overcome some stuff the past couple of years with injuries so I was just happy he was able to get that today."
The Colts began the day on Sunday ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing with an average of 127.1 yards per game, and after the game they shot back up to fifth, averaging 133.2. It was a goal of Reich and the Colts' during the offseason to finish 2019 as a top-five rushing offense, so as long as they can maintain their success through next Sunday's season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it will put a check mark next to one of the offense's biggest preseason goals.
If Week 11's effort against the Jaguars — a season-high 264 rushing yards — is any indication, they might be in for another quality day to close out their season.
The Colts had an opponent who they knew could be run on in their sights on Sunday afternoon, and with a running back knocking on the door of this year's 1,000-yard club, they weren't going to be denied.
"The mentality never changes in a game," Smith said. "Every game we're trying to hit the 200 mark, no matter what."