INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The countdown was on, and obvious.
As the Indianapolis Colts were in the process of handing the Carolina Panthers their seventh consecutive loss, individuals were on the Colts’ sideline keeping track of Marlon Mack’s Race to 1,000.
The third-year running back entered Sunday with 919 yards, and was facing the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense. It seemed only a matter of time.
Mack was in better position after picking up 56 yards on 12 first-half attempts.
“We’re on the sideline counting up and after a while we were like, ‘How much does Marlon need?’’’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett admitted.
Players were keeping track?
“No,’’ Brissett insisted. “Just like two dudes on the sidelines. It wasn’t like coach was like, ‘Marlon needs this.’
“No, we don’t play those type of games.’’
They didn’t need to.
Mack’s pursuit of his first 1,000-yard season ended when he burst through the heart of the Panthers’ defense for 30 yards early in the fourth quarter. It was his longest run of the day and his last.
“It was special,’’ Brissett said.
“It means a lot,’’ Frank Reich agreed. “Obviously, it means a lot to Marlon, but it means a lot to the offensive line any time you get a guy going over 1,000. It’s a real credit to all those guys, our receivers and tight ends.
“I’m just happy for Marlon. He’s kind of had to overcome some stuff the past couple of years with injuries, so I was just happy he was able to get that today.’’
Mack’s career-best season temporarily stalled when he suffered a broken right hand Nov. 17 against Jacksonville. It forced him to miss two games.
Mack is the seventh Colt to reach 1,000 yards since the team’s relocation in 1984. He joins Frank Gore (2016) and Joe Addai (2006-07) as the only backs to get there since Edgerrin James’ departure after 2005.
With one game remaining, he sits with 1,014 yards.
“It’s definitely a goal that I can check off my sheet,’’ Mack said. “Truly proud of it. I can’t do it myself, man. The o-line pretty much got me there.
“The holes were amazing today, wide open.’’
Passing game still lacking
Lost in the euphoria of the lopsided victory was a passing game that failed to offer reliable balance. While the running game piled up 218 yards, Brissett completed 14-of-27 passes for 119 yards.
Brissett’s receivers did him no favors with too many drops. Still, he needed his own reception on a deflected pass to avoid finishing under 50 percent.
As expected, Reich tweaked certain aspects of the Brissett-led passing game, including going with more no-huddle situations.
“We put a lot on his plate,’’ Reich said. “Jacoby handled it very well.’’
The passing yards, though, were stunningly low. In fact, Brissett’s 119 yards are tied for the second-fewest in a victory in team history by a QB who started and wasn’t pulled because of the game’s insignificance.
Jim Harbaugh passed for 120 yards in a 10-6 win over Miami in 1996 and John Unitas for 119 yards in a 37-14 win at Oakland in 1971.
Sunday marked the third time the Colts have rushed for at least 200 yards. The last time they managed that was in 1988.
Jordan Wilkins picked up where Mack left off and finished with a career-high 84 yards on nine carries.
Quenton Nelson’s streak of durability ended Sunday. The two-time Pro Bowl left guard was forced from the game with a concussion. Nelson hadn’t missed a snap because of injury in his first 32 games, including the playoffs.
With Nelson out, Joe Haeg replaced him at left guard. When right tackle Braden Smith missed a play because of an injury in the third quarter, Haeg moved to right tackle and Josh Andrews stepped in at left guard.
Carolina defensive tackle Vernon Butler can anticipate a certified letter from the NFL this week. That was assured when he was ejected early in the third quarter for throwing a punch at Colts’ tight end Jack Doyle, who wound up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Butler and guard Mark Glowinski were engaged at the end of a 3-yard run by Mack. They tripped over Doyle, and Butler reacted by throwing a punch at Doyle.
Butler was penalized for unnecessary roughness, then ejected after the play was reviewed.
“It’s football, man,’’ Butler said. “It’s a bang-bang play, a little extra going on. It wasn’t a good idea. I shouldn’t be hitting anyone in the first place. It’s not me. It’s not my character. I want to apologize to the organization and to my teammates.’’
As he was being escorted to the locker room, Butler flipped off the fans.
“Obviously they said something that caused me to do it,’’ he said. “The fans are always talking. I’m sorry I did it. I should keep my cool.
“I’m a better person and I apologize.’’
This and that
The Colts weren’t penalized for the first time since Dec. 26, 1999 at Cleveland . . . Defensive end Justin Houston pushed his sack total to 10 and became the first Colt since Erik Walden (11 in 2016) with at least 10. . . . Cornerback Pierre Desir had the first two-interception game of his career. He also was credited with five passes defensed. . . . Linebacker Anthony Walker had 10 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception. . . . Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad accounted for 2 of the Colts’ 5 sacks.