Colts point to players-only meeting in hammering Miami, avoiding 0-4 start

Sports

Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines (21) hands the ball to running back Jonathan Taylor (28), during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Colts defeated the Dolphins 27-17. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

INDIANAPOLIS – A pick-me-up definitely was needed. Or maybe it was some serious soul searching.

They were on the verge of opening a season 0-4 for the first time in a decade and just the sixth time since 1986. Each of the previous five occasions resulted in a death spiral and at least 13 losses.

The Indianapolis Colts were banged up in general, discombobulated on offense and dazed and confused on defense. Their season was teetering on irrelevancy, if not something much worse.

If ever there was a time for a players-only meeting, it was early last week.

The idea apparently began with a frustrated Kemoko Turay, who bounced it off of DeForest Buckner, Ben Banogu, rookie Kwity Paye and his other pass-rush colleagues. He saw Buckner doing his job at his usual high level, but there wasn’t nearly enough help.

“We couldn’t just leave him hanging,’’ Turay said. “So it bothered me last week and we needed that talk.’’

It was Buckner’s call to make, being the All-Pro tackle and defensive captain.

“It’s not my place,’’ Turay said, “but the thing is, it bothered me. I love this game.’’

His message was clear, and hinted at desperation.

We’re going to have to step it up.

We’ve got to get this right.

We’ll never know if the meeting was the driving force behind the Colts’ 27-17 domination of the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, or if it simply was nice timing. The Dolphins lost a third straight game after the season-opening win over the New England Patriots in Foxboro, and have their own mounting problems.

But let’s give credit where it’s due: this was more like what everyone has anticipated.

After a slow start – three punts and Carson Wentz’s 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mo Alie-Cox in the first half – the offense gave a glimpse of what it might soon be once so many key figures regain their health. It generated two TDs and a pair of Rodrigo Blankenship field goals after the break.

Wentz was much more mobile against the Dolphins than in last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans – there was no better example than his 10-yard run-pass option around right end on second-and-8 from the Miami 3 early in the second quarter – and Reich leaned heavily on Jonathan Taylor against Miami’s vulnerable run defense. Taylor pounded, slashed and burst his way for 103 yards on just 16 carries and the Colts finished with a season-high 139.

Wentz completed 24-of-32 for 228 and two touchdowns to Alie-Cox. It snapped a personal eight-game losing streak, including the playoffs.

“It feels great,’’ he said. “I feel like I got the monkey off my back a little bit, for me and the team.’’

The defense applied a hammerlock on the Jacoby Brissett-led Miami offense, albeit with a late lapse. For his part, Turay contributed his first two sacks of the season. A third by Grover Stewart resulted in a Brissett fumble scooped up by Darius Leonard.

At the end of three quarters, the Dolphins trailed 17-3 and their offense had 91 yards and six first downs on 34 plays. It took a pair of late drives for things to look semi-respectable. Of Miami’s 203 total yards – the fewest allowed by Indy since week 2 of last season against Minnesota (175), 112 and both TDs came in the final 15 minutes.

“Defense was really stout,’’ Reich said. “It allowed our offense to get in sync a little bit.’’

In the spirit of a complementary win, special teams overall did its share, after Nyheim Hines’ muffed an early punt that set up Miami’s Jason Sanders’ 38-yard field goal. Blankenship knocked down 34- and 43-yard field goals and Ashton Dulin covered a muffed punt by the Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant Jr.

Right time and right opponent for a players-only meeting? Or a sign the Colts are beginning to get their act together?

“Hopefully we can use this to get some traction and get things moving in the right direction,’’ Reich said.

Maybe we’ll be pointing to last week’s meeting as a starting point. It was followed by a Wednesday practice that center Ryan Kelly described as “one of the most physical’’ he had experienced in his six-year career with the Colts.

While the meeting was generated by the defense, the message was for everyone’s ears.

“We know that everyone hasn’t been playing their best ball,’’ shared Taylor. “We’ve been working, playing hard, but we haven’t been playing our best ball.

“In order to win games, you’ve got to be at your best and your best is needed. It was just a moment of reflection on, ‘What are we going to do this week to give a little more in order to be at our best on Sunday and come out with a win?’’’

Alie-Cox did his part. The veteran tight end had three catches for 32 yards in the first three games. Sunday, he had three for 42, including 3- and 11-yard touchdown catches. On the latter, Wentz lofted a high pass to him in the end zone and the 6-5 Alie-Cox high-pointed the catch against 6-1 safety Eric Rowe.

“That’s just the confidence I have,’’ he said. “If he’s right on me, just put it up. I think I can go up with anybody.’’

Alie-Cox also indicated the players-only meeting produced the desired results. Buckner spoke. Darius Leonard took his turn, as did Al-Quadin Muhammad.

“(Muhammad) was talking about just go out there and practice,’’ Alie-Cox said. “If you’re hurting, everyone’s hurting. We’re losing. We’re 0-3. Go out there and practice and sacrifice for the rest of the team.

“The message hit and Wednesday was probably our hardest practice in five years. That was probably my hardest practice ever since I’ve been here.

“Guys just took it. Everybody just listened with open ears. Nobody took anything personal or anything like that. At the end of the day, the goal is to win. We’re losing, so guys are going to listen with open ears.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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