INDIANAPOLIS – In a bottom-line business, the Indianapolis Colts arrived at the much-needed bottom line Sunday in Houston.
But getting there, well, it was a complicated journey.
“Just find a way to win,’’ coach Frank Reich said on a Monday Zoom conference call. “It was a very unique way to find a way to win, but we did.’’
It took a botched shotgun snap on second-goal at the 2 with the Houston Texans poised to complete a dramatic comeback.
And Grover Stewart’s suggestion to the coaching staff that led to the veteran defensive tackle running a particular stunt that enabled him to get quick penetration and prevent Deshaun Watson recovering that mishandled snap.
And Anthony Walker recovering the fumble to seal the 26-20 victory.
And the defense bailing out Reich on a failed fourth-and-1 at the Texans 5-yard line 5 minutes earlier.
And Philip Rivers making his second start with a painful turf toe injury, yet completing 77% of his passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
And backup left tackle Le’Raven Clark stepping in for injured Anthony Castonzo and lasting just five plays before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, and being replaced by Chaz Green, who missed practice twice last week while dealing with a back injury of his own.
And, well, you get the idea.
The end result: the Colts moved to 8-4 and maintained their hold on the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff race heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Raiders in Las Vegas. The Raiders are 7-5 and the No. 8 seed.
There’s time to look ahead to the Raiders. Monday was a time for Reich to look back, reassess and share some insight. Such as:
No one should question Rivers’ toughness. He’s started 247 consecutive games, including the playoffs, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. He’s made his last two starts after injuring his toe delivering a fourth-quarter block against the Green Bay Packers.
Reich didn’t try to estimate the level of pain Rivers is dealing with on a scale of 1-to-10, and added Rivers is “not the kind of guy who’s going to tell you what his number score on that 1-to-10 is going to be . . . he’s not going to talk about it. He’s just going to go about his business.
“I don’t want to make it sound like he’s Superman or anything, but that’s just the way he’s brought up.’’
The injury is serious enough to have Rivers walking around with a protective boot on his right foot and keep him out of practice a day or two each week.
Rivers mentioned after the Texans game the objective the remainder of the season is to manage the soreness and be ready for the upcoming game.
“I don’t feel any limitations as far as what I can do out there,’’ he said.
“I know he’s getting better,’’ he said. “I didn’t feel hindered at all the way I called the game. Do I think he’s 100%? No, he’s not 100%. Do I think he’s physically in good enough condition to play winning football against the best teams in the league? I do.
“The goal is to get these games in without having a major setback, and to the best of my knowledge, we did not have any setbacks yesterday.’’
Clark is out, Green isn’t 100%, and the Colts are in a wait-and-see mode with Castonzo, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The fact the Colts didn’t place Castonzo on the injured reserve list was an indication they’re optimistic he’ll return sooner, not later. A player on IR must miss at least three games.
“But we don’t know,’’ Reich said. “He’s the type of player if you’re ever going to take a chance with at that position and because of who he is, let’s not lock ourselves in in case he has a speedy recovery.
“We haven’t ruled anything out. We’ll get to Wednesday and access where he’s at and go from there.’’
General manager Chris Ballard is in the process of getting another tackle on he roster. Rookie Danny Pinter was a right tackle at Ball State but has been concentrating on center since training camp. Rookie Carter O’Donnell, a product of Alberta, is on the practice squad.
Walker came up with the game-clinching fumble recovery with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining, but Stewart made it possible by separating Watson from the football. It was, according to Reich, an example of the coaching staff heeding the advice of a player.
Shortly before the pivotal play, Stewart approached defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus on the sideline.
“(He) told Flus that he wanted to run this one particular stunt,’’ Reich said. “On that play, they called the stunt that Grover crossed the guy’s face and penetrated and obviously was there when the ball was fumbled to keep the ball alive for A-Walk to recover it.
“Good communication there between a great player, Grover, and Flus and the coaches. It’s a great player coming over and saying, ‘Hey, I can beat this guy with this move.’ And a coach responding and say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ Then picking the right time to do it.’’
The Colts have gone for it 24 times on fourth down this season, trailing only Dallas (25). They’ve converted 15, trailing only Cincinnati (17-of-21).
“Those fourth-down calls are fun,’’ Reich said. “We’re committed to it as a team and an organization. It’s a belief in the players, but it’s not just a reckless belief.’’
Critics might have disagreed with less than 7 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The Colts were looking to add to a 24-20 lead and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Texans 5. Instead of having rookie Rodrigo Blankenship attempt a chip-shot field goal, Reich kept Rivers and the offense on the field. The aggression blew up in Indy’s face when Nyheim Hines was tackled for no gain.
In hindsight, Reich would make the same decision.
“For us, that was a clear ‘go.’ It wasn’t even close,’’ he said. “Very confident that was the right decision for us even though we didn’t make it. In that instance, field goal puts us up 7. They’ve got plenty of time. They go down and score and, in my mind, I’m convinced they’re going for 2 and the win, and they’ve probably got the best quarterback in the league on a 2-point play.
“We just wanted to put the game away. We just didn’t convert.’’
Given a mulligan, Reich admitted he might have called a timeout to reassess the situation. Not whether to go for it, but to perhaps alter the play or personnel grouping.
“If we don’t make it on fourth down, it’s my fault,’’ he said. “Those aren’t just words. I really don’t think it was the best play call in hindsight.
“The play draws up well. The play can be blocked. The play had options. Philip made the right decision. We didn’t execute it quite the way we needed to execute it, but it was more on me. I didn’t put the players in the best position possible.’’
In the second quarter, Colts went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Houston 39, and Rivers made the Texans pay dearly for botching coverage with a 39-yard TD pass to running back Jonathan Taylor.
“Those are decisions that need to be made in real time, and we’re confident in the philosophy that we have and the approach that we have in those situations,’’ Reich said.
Allowing Texans to score?
One option at the end of the game would have been to allow the Texans to score. That would have at least given Rivers and the offense time to mount a drive to kick a game-winning field goal.
That was never discussed.
“There are situations,’’ Reich said, “but that was not one of them. It didn’t get brought up in the moment.
“It would have been really hard for me to let ‘em score – I’m not going to lie – in that situation.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.