INDIANAPOLIS – They found a way.
Which is the objective, right?
Listen to a battered and bruised Matt Ryan after he and the Indianapolis Colts found a way by transforming an unsightly Thursday night meeting with the Broncos in Denver into an utter masterpiece in the form of a 12-9 overtime victory.
“Wins are what we need,’’ he said. “We’ve got to play better than we did tonight, but at the end of the day you’ve got to win games, even as you’re trying to find out what we can be.
“I’m proud of the fact we did that.’’
It was Ryan’s 237th career game and his 44th fourth quarter/overtime comeback; that’s sixth-most in NFL history. His second in three weeks was built on Chase McLaughlin’s fourth field goal of the night – a 48-yarder on the Colts’ opening drive of overtime – and cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s deflection of a Russell Wilson pass on fourth-and-1 at the Indy 5 with 2:38 remaining.
“(Wilson) kept trying me, so I made him pay,’’ Gilmore said on Amazon Prime.
That came after first-year Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett went for the jugular late in the fourth quarter. Leading 9-6 and facing a 3rd-and-4 at the Indy 13, he dialed up a Wilson pass that was directed at Tyrie Cleveland in the end zone.
A field goal might have sealed it considering the Colts’ meekness on offense and a touchdown would have essentially ended it. Instead, Gilmore gave the offense one more chance with his first interception as a Colt.
Ryan made ‘em pay. On a 10-play, 67-yard drive, he completed 5-of-7 passes for 52 yards, including 11- and 17-yard hookups with rookie wideout Alec Pierce and a 10-yarder to Parris Campbell. Deon Jackson’s 17-yard run to the 17 set up McLaughlin’s 31-yard field goal that forced overtime.
“I’ve played long enough to know that as long as you have a chance at the end of the game . . .’’ Ryan said. “I’m not going to flinch in those situations.’’
He described the game as “a slog’’ and “weird.’’ That’s on point considering the Colts overcame six sacks and another seven hits on Ryan behind a retooled offensive line, two Ryan interceptions and two more fumbles, eight penalties and a few dropped passes.
And remember, All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor missed the game with an ankle injury, which was compounded when backup Nyheim Hines suffered a concussion on the third play of the game. That left things in the hands of Deon Jackson and former Bronco Phillip Lindsay.
But they found a way.
Listen to Frank Reich.
“These are hard to win,’’ he said. “You come on the road on Thursday night . . . this is a win. We’ll figure out how to get better on offense, but we played good enough to get the win tonight.
“The tone in the locker room is ‘Great win, gritty win.’ There’s a closeness to this team that I think is going to bode well for us.’’
Credit the defense for keeping things winnable as the Ryan and the offense kept finding ways to lose it. Consider the Colts’ first five drives: four Matt Haack punts and a Ryan interception.
At the half, Wilson and the Broncos had 103 yards, seven first downs and a pair of Brandon McManus field goals.
Yes, they found a way.
And that’s the beauty of the NFL.
The offense’s continued malaise is reaching historic depths. It’s failed to score at least 20 points in seven straight games – the longest streak since eight straight in 1993 – and the 69 points are the club’s fewest in the first five games since 1998 (57).
The Colts won without scoring a touchdown for just the 12th time in team history and the first since a 15-6 field goal-fest in a 2006 Divisional round meeting with the Ravens in Baltimore.
Also, it was the first time in 15 seasons Ryan walked off the field a winner without scoring a touchdown.
With the offense struggling mightily against Denver’s defense – 306 total yards, 4-of-16 on third down, those five sacks – Gilmore and the defense were game-long forces. Gilmore had five tackles to go along with the interception and two passes defended.
“That’s the definition of a big-time player, man: Making the plays in the moment,’’ Reich said. “And he made the two huge plays, I mean massive plays.
“The defense was already playing great, and those big plays obviously helped win that game.’’
So did tackle DeForest Buckner, with eight tackles and 2 sacks while playing with an injury to his left elbow Reich described as “significant.’’ And tackle Grover Stewart, who had three tackles and swatted away a 34-yard McManus field goal.
Instead of returning home 1-3-1, the Colts found a way to exit Empower Field at Mile High 2-2-1.
“Shoot, we’re not happy about 2-2-1,’’ Reich said, “but we’re right there. And that’s what we’ve been saying. It’s a better start than some of the other years that we’ve had here.
“But we’ve got to get better.’’
The magnitude of the win wasn’t lost on Irsay.
“This was one of those ones where you had to get it,’’ he said. “We’re fire up and excited, man.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.