Not every win in the NFL is built the same, but the teams that can win ugly seem to be able to survive longer the further the season goes along.
The Colts were outgained by nearly 100 yards on the ground and their lone touchdown came in the first quarter. Still, they were able to win the turnover battle, sack the opposing team’s quarterback five times and sustain fewer penalties than the Patriots en route to a 10-6 win at Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany.
This is the second straight game where the Colts were outgained by at least 50 yards and only scored one touchdown, but head coach Shane Steichen is proving that his team can win in games that aren’t pretty. Following three straight losses, the Colts have strung together two wins as they head into their week 11 bye.
The game started with Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott punching the Colts in the mouth time after time on the way to a 13-play, 61-yard drive ending in a Chad Ryland field goal. It was then time for Steichen and the offense to cultivate their own masterclass starting with three straight passes followed by eight straight Jonathan Taylor rushes, something that Colts’ fans didn’t even think was possible just weeks ago. A Michael Pittman Jr. near score and Gardner Minshew's “tush-push” led to Taylor scoring his second touchdown of the year.
“You never know what to expect when you’re facing Bill Belichick,” Taylor said postgame. “Like hey, be open, be ready for anything.”
Belichick, who has 330 career playoff and regular season victories, is consistently on the minds of the Colts every time the two teams match up.
Following the Colts’ touchdown, seven drives between the teams — resulting in a total of 89 yards — all ended in punts. On the final drive of the half for the Colts, Matt Gay missed a 57-yard field goal that would've extended the lead to seven. Coming out of the halftime locker room, it was evident that the Colts wanted to get their offense back on track.
Taylor gained four yards off the left guard and then Minshew started to target Pittman Jr., his most reliable receiver. Pittman Jr., who is leading all receivers in snap share percentage at over 98 percent, caught his first target of the second half for 14 yards and added 26 on the next snap before the play was called back for offensive pass interference. He caught a pass on the next snap for nine yards before Minshew looked his way one too many times, leading to a Myles Bryant interception.
A missed Patriots’ field goal and ensuing punt from the Colts led to the teams trading field goals and the score sitting at 10-6. For the first time in the game, Mac Jones and the offense started to threaten the Colts in the red zone having first-and-10 from the 13-yard line. Unfortunately for Jones, his interception not only put the Colts in a position to win the game but also led to his benching for Bailey Zappe. A fake spike from Zappe failed to fool the Colts’ defense and a Rodney Thomas interception ended the game giving the Colts the win.
Steichen raved about the defense postgame.
“They played awesome the entire game,” Steichen said. “To hold a team like that to six points, any team in the National Football League to six points, is phenomenal.”
Zaire Franklin continued his dominant season, recording 15 total tackles, and was assisted by Shaquille Leonard who accumulated nine stops. Dayo Odeyingbo produced the best game of his career with three sacks, all coming in the first half, and was spotted two more, one from Kwity Paye and the other from Tyquan Lewis.
“For Dayo to get that, going out there and playing like he did and the rest of the defensive line was big setting the tone,” Steichen said.
The Colts now enter their bye week in a position to make noise in the AFC South and the AFC playoff picture as a whole. The team sits at 5-5, good for third in the division, and with the Texans above them at 5-4 and the Jaguars leading the division at 6-3, the Colts face an uphill battle, but not one they are shying away from.
“We’re fired up man, we’re fired up,” Minshew told reporters. “Got some free time coming, we’re 5-5, got everything in front of us, so you know, I think it’s a great opportunity to go home and get healthy and hit this back half of the season with a lot of confidence.”
Following the bye week, the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home followed by road trips to Tennessee and Cincinnati. Over the next five weeks the Colts play teams with a combined 22-24 record, meaning this could be the stretch for the Colts to flourish and continue to climb in the AFC.
The bye week will be paramount for Josh Downs, who played sparingly in this game due to a knee injury, JuJu Brents, and center Ryan Kelly, who suffered his second concussion of the season against the Patriots, to get healthy and ready to attack this final stretch of the season.
The Colts lost all four of their games following their week 14 bye last season including allowing the largest comeback victory in NFL history to the Vikings.
Steichen and this team look to right that wrong over the next seven games, and this victory over Belichick and the Patriots — a team the Colts are 10-23 against in Belichick’s legendary tenure — might be the best way to start the streak.