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Colts defeat Raiders 23-20 to set up high-stakes season finale

The AFC South comes down to the final week of the regular season as the Colts host the Houston Texans in an elimination game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) rushes for a touchdown Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

INDIANAPOLIS — The most improved NFL team kept its playoff hopes alive for the season finale as the Colts gutted out a 23-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders to secure a winning season in Shane Steichen’s first campaign at the helm.

After starting Sunday’s affair with consecutive carries to Jonathan Taylor, quarterback Gardner Minshew scrambled to his right and found receiver Josh Downs trailing across the field for a 50-yard play to drive inside the red zone. Indianapolis fed Taylor five times on the six–play opening drive, ultimately scoring his sixth touchdown of the season from five-yards out to give the Colts a 7-0 lead.

The Colts (9-7) struggles against designed screens and making tackles in open space were never more prevalent than during the Raiders (7-9) opening drive. Raiders QB Aiden O’Connell hit Davante Adams on a swing pass out the backfield on the Raiders first play from scrimmage, then the Raiders repeated the same action with running back Zamir White to move the sticks.

O’Connell found Adams on a corner route near the sideline for a 24-yard gain to convert a third down inside Colts territory, then dumped it off to Ameer Abdullah, who broke away from Nick Cross to convert another first down. The Raiders ultimately settled for a 40-yard field goal from kicker Daniel Carlson to cut the deficit to 7-3.

The Raiders pinned the Colts deep inside their own 10-yard line midway through the second quarter. Following a quick screen designed for Michael Pittman Jr. to move the sticks, the Colts leaned on their healthy tailback tandem, Taylor and Trey Sermon. Taylor led the Colts with a season-high 96 rushing yards on 21 carries and a touchdown.

Facing third-and-1 with 3:12 left in the first half, Minshew ran play action and took a deep shot, launching a missile to receiver Alec Pierce for a 58-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-3. Minshew completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 224 passing yards.

Indianapolis’ plague of critical mistakes continued once a defensive stop forced Antonio Pierce to send his punt unit. E.J. Speed was flagged for roughing the kicker, which gifted the Raiders a new set of downs. On third-&-goal, O’Connell delivered a dart to Adams at the goal line for his sixth touchdown of the season to cut the deficit to 14-10.

Steichen never flinched when faced with fourth down and kept the offense on the gridiron as Minshew lofted a pass to Pittman inside the red zone. Pittman set a single-season career high in receptions and receiving yards, becoming the fourth Colts player to eclipse 100 catches in a single-season.

Colts kicker Matt Gay clipped three field goals during the second half, including a 38-yarder to extend the Colts lead to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. Gay connected on a 33-yard FG midway through the fourth quarter, then with a 45-yarder to increase the lead to double-digits with 3:11 left to play.

The Raiders momentarily kept their season alive once O’Connell found rookie receiver Tre Tucker on an out route on fourth-&-10. O’Connell dialed up a scoring drive intended to jab the Cover 3 defense with a series of out routes, allowing Carlson to make a 33-yard FG to make it a one possession game with 4:35 left in regulation.

Adams, who tied a season-high with 13 receptions for 126 receiving yards, caught his second touchdown to cut the deficit to within a field goal. Rodney Thomas III recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the home victory.

The AFC South comes down to the final week of the regular season as the Colts host the Houston Texans in an elimination game at Lucas Oil Stadium.