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Revisiting the Keys to the Game: Colts mount comeback, defeat the Dolphins 27-24

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a long time since the Colts were able to win one of these games. There were no signs of life, numerous mistakes and missteps and a seemingly insurmountable wave of negative momentum throughout three quarters of the game. If you are a Colts fans and you didn’t feel like there was little or no chance they were going to pull this win out for a big chunk of the game, I need to start watching games with you.

At one point, I felt like I was watching some kind of predetermined outcome unfold before my eyes. Jordan Wilkins coughs up the ball while the offense was rolling in the first half. Andrew Luck throws back-to-back interceptions. WHAT?!?!?! I mean, even the 4th-and-1 pass to Luck reeked of desperation.

It might be hard to believe this, but Indy’s 7 penalties for 52 yards were fewer than the 10 called on the Dolphins. Maybe it felt like more because the penalties came at the worst times. They constantly put Andrew Luck and the offense in difficult situations when the team already had to dig out of a hole. A hole that seemed to get deeper. A 10-point deficit that somehow felt like 40.

You have to believe that the players could feel it too. There was no real surge of momentum until under 5 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Andrew Luck threaded a needle to Eric Ebron to tie the game. Xavien Howard was so upset that he leveled Ebron well after the play was over and put his offense in a horrible situation.

After a masterful pooch kick by Rigoberto Sanchez on the ensuing kickoff, the defense roared to life. All three of Miami’s ensuing offensive plays were brutally blown up.

On the previous possession, Margus Hunt blew up a Kenyan Drake run in the backfield on third down to force a punt. He followed that up by stuffing Frank Gore for no gain on first down. Matthew Adams nearly separated Devante Parker’s soul from his body for no gain on a wide receiver screen pass to the right. Mike Mitchell came up from his safety position to stop Drake for only 4 yards to setup the final punt of the game.

After that, Andrew Luck took over. Two unsuccessful and uninspired plays to Nyheim Hines took the game to the two minute warning. Queue Luck’s magic act, avoiding a likely sack or possible fumble, finding Chester Rogers for a 34 yard back breaker. For all intents and purposes, once Rogers hauled in that pass, the game was over.

This was not a drawn up play. This isn’t how things were supposed to work. Nothing about that play went how it was supposed to happen. The only thing that happened was Andrew Luck doing as he has done many times in his career, willing his team to a late-game victory to keep its playoff hopes alive.

It feels like an eternity since the Colts have won a game like this one. I remember a time when Colts fans never felt like a game was out of reach. There was a strange confidence that things would work out and Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck would find a way to get the job done.

I didn’t have that feeling on Sunday.

Maybe now, I will start to get it back.

Let’s revisit the keys to the game.


ESTABLISH THE RUNNING GAME

While this wasn’t the most inspiring running game for the Colts this season, it was enough to maintain balance. 26 rushes for 118 yards, a 4.5 yards per carry average. Marlon Mack ran 15 times for 85 yards, 5.7 yards per carry on his own.

There were definitely times that the play-calling seemed too obvious and a number of holding calls on run plays that hurt the cause, but Frank Reich refused to abandon the ground game and did what it took to keep the Dolphins defense honest.

KEEP THE PRESSURE COMING

While the Colts only tallied a single sack on the game, they beat up Ryan Tannehill for much of the game. The unit totaled 7 quarterback hits, with rookie Tyquan Lewis leading the team with two on his own. It was one of those games where it felt like sacks weren’t landing but the pressure was there.

THE GHOST NEEDS TO MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE

Did he ever? Hilton caught 7 passes on 10 targets for 125 yards. It was glaringly obvious that the lack of tight end depth hurt Indy’s offensive efficiency. Missing Mo Alie-Cox and Erik Swoope allowed the Dolphins to pin back their ears on the edges and took away a big part of what makes Frank Reich’s offense so dynamic. To make up for it, Hilton had to have a big day.

Outside of a forced throw that resulted in an interception, Hilton had his way with Miami’s secondary. He beat safety Minkah Fitzpatrick numerous times throughout the game. One of his best catches didn’t count as the Colts accepted a penalty. Over a third of the Colts passing offense went through Hilton.

CATCH THE DAMN BALL

Outside of what might have been a difficult catch for Chester Rogers, the Colts were sure-handed. Good thing too. I’m not sure the team could have overcome drops in this one.

AGGRESSIVE PLAY IN THE SECONDARY

The most aggressive part of the Colts pass defense on Sunday came from the linebacker position. Anthony Walker was called for pass interference as he batted down a pass over the middle. He also nearly picked off a pass intended for Frank Gore. Matthew Adams blew up DeVante Parker on Miami’s final offensive drive of the game. Darius Leonard picked up the team’s lone sack for the game.

It wasn’t a terrible showing for the secondary. Quincy Wilson had an interception knocked away by his teammate Malik Hooker and Kenny Moore knocked down a pass, but Pierre Desir failed miserably on what should have been another interception with a poorly timed jump that allowed Leonte Carroo to score an 80-yard touchdown near the end of the first half.