INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t exactly the way Frank Reich scripted it, but the end result served a purpose.
While pushing their record to 4-2 heading into this week’s bye, the Indianapolis Colts checked off one of those necessary boxes with their dramatic comeback against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
They dispelled any notion they couldn’t climb out of a hole, regroup and do whatever was necessary to get the job done.
That was Reich’s message to the players after they spotted the Bengals a 21-0 second-quarter lead before rallying for a 31-27 victory.
We still have a lot to prove, but one of the things that we needed to prove, we proved today. That we can win a game like that.
“That was an important box to check off,’’ Reich said in a Monday Zoom conference call. “I was proud of the way we handled it in all three phases because make no mistake about it, I’ve been in a lot of games like this – not a lot, but enough when you come back from a lot of points – (and) it’s not just the offense. The defense has to shut them down. Special teams has to be on point.’’
The offense’s first three possessions consisted of a Jack Doyle lost fumble and two three-and-outs. But the next three in the second quarter generated touchdowns – Trey Burton’s 1-yard run out of the Wildcat and Rivers’ TD passes to Burton and Zach Pascal.
The defense yielded scores on the first four possessions for a second week in a row, but then got its act together. Cincinnati’s final six drives netted just 171 yards – there were three three-and-outs – and one field goal. Rookie safety Julian Blackmon clinched the crazy afternoon with his second interception in three games.
As for special teams, Rigoberto Sanchez dropped another punt inside the opponent’s 5-yard line and Rodrigo Blankenship converted four PATs and a 40-yard field goal with 4 minutes remaining that forced the Bengals to score a touchdown, not settle for a field goal, on their final drive.
“Just really good complementary football,’’ Reich said.
Nothing less would have sufficed.
The game marked just the third time in his 230-game career as a starter Rivers had overcome a 21-0 deficit and rallied his team to a victory: against the Bengals in ’06, his first year as the Chargers’ starter and in ’14 against San Francisco.
It also was just the third time in Colts’ regular-season history they had won after falling behind 21-0: ’03 at Tampa Bay and in 1975 at Buffalo.
The bye week should enable the Colts to regain their health for the Nov. 1 trip to Detroit.
It’s entirely possible All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard (groin) will return after missing two games, and Reich is optimistic tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and offensive tackle Chaz Green (back) will be back as well.
Also, rookie wideout Michael Pittman Jr. (leg) and linebacker Matthew Adams (ankle) could return to the active roster from the injured reserve list, and defensive end Kemoko Turay (ankle) might have a chance of practicing and playing against the Lions. Turay is on the physically unable to perform list, but is eligible to begin practicing. Once he starts to practice, the team has a 21-day window to active him.
“Hopefully most, if not all of those guys will be ready to go versus Detroit,’’ Reich said.
About the bye
In a normal year, players would deal with a few more days of work before heading home or somewhere else for their bye. But this isn’t a normal year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Players are staying put. The NFL has mandated the daily testing protocol remain in place even during the bye week, and that testing must take place in Indy.
“There is just no way around that,’’ Reich said.
Players were given the bad news last week.
“I think there was about a 10-minute period where everybody was upset about it, and probably still not happy about it,’’ Reich said. “But everybody knows we’re in a unique year.
“It’s just a unique year so everybody is just biting the bullet and saying, ‘All right, so we’re staying here.’ My guess is a lot of guys are flying family members into Indianapolis to spend time here as opposed to going home.’’
Players will spend time at the Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center Tuesday and Wednesday before having a CBA-mandated four consecutive days off.
The numbers are very un-T.Y. Hilton-like. Six games into his ninth season, Hilton ranks second on the team with 20 receptions and 242 yards while being targeted a team-high 37 times. We’ll do the math for you. He’s on pace for 53 catches and 645 yards and hasn’t posted a 100-yard game in 19 consecutive games, including the playoffs.
While Rivers was passing for a season-high 371 yards and three TDs against the Bengals, Hilton finished with one catch for 11 yards on five targets despite being on the field for 95% of the offensive snaps.
“I was frustrated with T.Y. yesterday because we throw for 370 yards, and he has one catch for 11 yards,’’ Reich said. “You would never guess that in a million years.
“But to T.Y.’s credit, he is just such a good teammate and wants us to win.’’
Reich reviewed video from the game and didn’t detect a four-time Pro Bowl wideout who wasn’t on his game.
“My evaluation was he played well. He played really well,’’ Reich.
At the risk of making excuses for Hilton, it seemed as if circumstances conspired against him.
Early in the second quarter, Hilton had to drag his feet on the left sideline while gathering in a deep out from Rivers. The play was ruled incomplete, and Reich’s challenge was denied, which denied Hilton a 17-yard gain.
Later in the quarter, Hilton snared a 5-yard TD from Rivers only to have that erased when left tackle Anthony Castonzo was penalized for being downfield on the play. On the Colts’ final possession of the first half, Rivers hit Hilton with a 20-yard completion only to have that wiped out by an interference penalty on Zach Pascal.
“He has another big in-cut that he’s coming wide open. It is going to be a 30-yard gain,’’ Reich said. “Philip is coming right to him, and it’s one of the few plays in the whole game where Philip gets pressure and gets pushed out of the pocket to the right; otherwise it’s a 30-yard gain to T.Y.
“We had another one where T.Y. is going deep down the middle and same thing . . . Philip gets pushed out of the pocket to the right and ends up throwing it short right to Nyheim (Hines) for an incompletion. But had it fallen differently in the pocket, and he was pushed the other way, his eyes are going to go to T.Y., and it’s going to be a 50-yard touchdown.
“T.Y. is still doing T.Y. things. The ball just hasn’t gone his way as much lately, had a few bad breaks, and then he has had a few pass interferences.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.