INDIANAPOLIS – Two key pieces of the future made a major difference in the present.
More to the point, they kept the present relevant.
Much has been expected of Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo since they were snatched off the Indianapolis Colts’ draft board with first- and second-round picks in April. They were viewed as the pass-rush threats that have been missing since, well, since Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis wreaked havoc with offenses in the 2000s.
Remember owner Jim Irsay? He couldn’t contain himself after general manager Chris Ballard followed the February trade with Philadelphia that added Carson Wentz to the roster with the Paye/Odeyingbo boost for the defense.
“I think it’s stunning and in the future prove to be quite epic when you see that we’ve gotten a quarterback and two edge rushers,’’ he said. “When you can get your franchise quarterback and what we feel are two outstanding edge rushers – I mean, special guys – it’s hard to do.
“These guys are heavyweights.’’
Irsay was just getting started.
“I really believe we’ll look back and say this may put us in the Super Bowl,’’ he said. “It’s really special to have gone from ‘What are we going to do at edge rusher now?’ to being a big-time strength of ours.’’
We’ll let the Super Bowl talk just sit there.
But there’s no overstating the impact the two future pieces had on the present.
Paye finally – finally! – generated his first career sack in his eighth start that helped short-circuit one Jacksonville drive in the third quarter. Odeyingbo collaborated with tackle DeForest Buckner on another sack with 1 minute to play and the Jaguars trailing 23-17 but driving near midfield and threatening to complete a comeback after trailing 17-0.
Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence stepped up in the pocket to avoid early pressure but was hit by Buckner and stripped of the football by Odeyingbo’s clean-up hit. Kemoko Turay came up with the game-sealing recovery.
Colts 23, Jaguars 17.
Instead of absorbing yet another numbing loss to Jacksonville that would have snuffed out any realistic playoff aspirations, the Colts won for the fourth time in five games to give themselves a chance to do something. They reached 5-5 with a pair of defining games ahead: at Buffalo next Sunday, home against Tampa Bay Nov. 28.
Credit special teams, which saw Zaire Franklin swat down Logan Cooke’s first punt and E.J. Speed scoop it up for a 12-yard touchdown.
Credit the defense, which forced seven three-and-outs on the Jaguars’ 13 possessions, had the game’s only takeaway with the Buckner/Odeyingbo masterpiece and allowed the Colts to survive despite one of the offense’s worst outings of the season.
Most of all, credit the rookie edge rushers.
“They’re just getting better,’’ coach Frank Reich said. “Playing with confidence. Working really hard in practice. Eager to just get better. Eager: ‘What can I do to get better?’
“Great hustle. Everything you want. Those guys are going to be good players. We’re on the right track.’’
Paye admitted he’s managed to keep his frustrations from bubbling to the top as his sackless streak increased. He was coming off a solid game against the New York Jets – five pressures, but no sacks – but pass rushers gain fame with sacks.
“I’ve been getting a whole lot of pressures,’’ he said. “It felt good to get one.’’
The sack came after Paye aggravated an injury to his right ankle on the first play of the third quarter; that’s the ankle he first injured during training camp. He missed a handful of plays but returned during the same series.
Paye missed two games this season with a hamstring issue and has taken a blunt approach when dealing with any injury.
“Like I said before, it’s ‘Just eff it,’’’ he said. “I just want to go out there and play with my guys. I got banged up today, but (I told trainers) just wrap it up and let me go back out there.
“I feel like I’ve missed too much time.’’
That’s a more appropriate description for Odeyingbo’s rookie season. He missed the first seven games after tearing an Achilles tendon in January while preparing for the Senior Bowl. He spent the first half of the season on the non-football injury list, but gradually is rounding into shape.
“It’s getting better and better every week,’’ Odeyingbo said of his Achilles. “It’s still something I’m working through, dealing with, getting it stronger so just getting more used to it and playing with it.
“It’s definitely a big confidence-builder to be able to make a play like that. It’s been tough trying to gain confidence with the injury and coming back in the middle of the season and not having that many practices.
“It’s definitely big.’’
The offense had been churning out yards and points over the past month but sputtered badly after its first two possessions against the Jaguars netted Michael Badgley’s 24-yard field goal and Jonathan Taylor’s 4-yard touchdown run.
During one unsightly nine-possession stretch, Carson Wentz & Co. managed just two more Badgley field goals while being forced to punt seven times. Five of the drives were three-and-outs.
But the defense kept things winnable, then won it. The only real blemish was allowing wideout Jamal Agnew to get loose for a 66-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
“Offense comes out on fire early then gets in a rut,’’ Reich said. “Defense holds it together.
“Then the defense closing it out. Thought the defense played great the whole game besides the one long run they got, but finished in the fourth quarter.’’
Odeyingbo’s strip/sack was the defense’s 21st takeaway of the season and extended the defense’s streak of at least one to 11 games, the NFL’s longest active streak.
“Just relentless,’’ Reich said. “Those aren’t accidents. Those are playmakers.’’
And that’s what the Colts envisioned when they invested the 21st overall pick in the draft on Paye and the 54th overall selection on Odeyingbo.
After celebrating Paye’s first sack – “I was jumping, screaming,’’ he said – Odeyingbo provided a reason for Lucas Oil Stadium to erupt.
“I was rushing the B-gap, saw the quarterback step up, so trying to play a little rush and get there,’’ he said. “I saw the ball so I tried to make a play and I was blessed enough to make it.’’
Paye admitted some pressure has been lifted following his first NFL sack.
“Yeah, sorta, kinda just because they brought me in here to pass rush and get sacks and I felt like in a way I wasn’t really contributing,’’ he said. “I’ve just been getting pressures and pressures help other people get sacks.
“It felt good to get my own.’’
It also felt good for the defense to slam the door on Jacksonville’s comeback bid.
“Our mentality coming into the game all the time (is) we have to make a play,’’ Paye said. “We always think defense wins the game.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.