Colts, Rivers on the uptick for December playoff push

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – The image spoke volumes.

There was Philip Rivers, seated comfortably in front of the screen, his Nunc Coepi baseball hat snuggly on his 39-year-old head, explaining the Indianapolis Colts’ latest step on what they hope is a journey to the NFL’s postseason.

His attention initially honed in on Sunday’s 44-27 demolition of the Raiders in Las Vegas but then widened to the team’s trend arrow that’s most definitely headed in the right direction.

As Rivers kept talking, his left hand slowly ascended at a bull-market angle that would have pleased any investor on the stock market.

“Well, we had some hiccups, but you’d like to think we’ve been doing this all year,’’ he said as his hand moved upward. “That’s what you hope to do, and you hope you are playing your best ball here in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what we are going to need to do to accomplish our regular-season goals and also give ourselves a chance in the postseason.’’

Coaches break down a season in quarters – four-game segments – and the aim is to be playing incrementally better as the quarters slide by. The overriding objective is either to have a playoff spot locked up at this point of the season – congrats, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Green Bay – or be in the thick of the hunt.

Rivers’ Colts are in the latter category. They’ll take a 9-4 record and No. 6 seed in the AFC into Sunday’s rematch with the Houston Texans in Lucas Oil Stadium. According to FiveThiryEight.com, the Colts’ odds of reaching the playoffs are at 91% and at winning the AFC South at 39%.

The postseason odds rise to 97% with a second win over the Texans in three weeks, but dip to 71% with a loss.

Even though the NFL is a week-to-week venture, the Colts are trending in the proper direction. They’ve won four of five and several areas of the team are playing at high levels.

“You come off a game like we had (Sunday) and just like you can’t ride the wave when things go bad – you’ve got to put it past you – you’ve got to do the same thing,’’ Reich said on a Monday Zoom conference call. “But I do believe that we have been preaching that and thinking that.

“I feel like we’re getting better . . . I believe we as a team believe that we have the personnel to do something, to make some noise. There’s a lot of belief and confidence and conviction about that and no one wants to let the next guy down, so let’s keep fighting to get better.

“If we do that, then we should be playing our best football later in the year.’’

Here’s where we point out December is when playoff aspirations crystalize or crash and burn.

Over the last eight seasons, the Colts have reached the playoffs four times by mounting a strong closing kick: 4-1 in 2018, 3-1 in ’14 and 4-1 in ’13 and ’12. They’re 2-0 so far.

More evidence:

  • Rivers has located a second gear. Over the last eight games, he’s completed 66.7% of his passes with 16 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 101.5 passer rating. He’s been in total command on the field with his accuracy and anticipation.

Reich insisted his 39-year old QB1 has been “impressive’’ all year.

  • The Ghost is back in form. T.Y. Hilton’s last three games: 17 receptions, 277 yards and four TDs. He averaged 36 yards with no TDs in his first nine games. He’s had TD catches in three straight games for the first time since the first three games of 2019.
  • Rookie Jonathan Taylor is emerging from Reich’s backs-by-committee approach as the back. His last three games: 331 yards on 55 carries (6.0 per attempt). He’s coming off a career-best 150 yards against the Raiders as the Colts rushed for a season-high 212 yards.
  • The defense still is having those Jekyll-Hyde swings but has allowed just one second-half TD in the last five games, and that was Derek Carr’s cosmetic 5-yard run Sunday. More than that, the defense has nine takeaways in the last five games, including two by nickel corner Kenny Moore II in Vegas – the ridiculous one-hand snag of a Carr pass in the end zone and a forced fumble.
  • The Colts are a plus-10 in the giveaway-takeaway battle. Only Pittsburgh (plus-11) is better.
  • The offense has had six games with zero turnovers, and Indy is 6-0 in those games. It marks just the third time since 1998 the Colts have had at least six games without a turnover.
  • Rookie Rodrigo Blankenship is tied for 3rd in the league in scoring and has set a franchise rookie record with 116 points.

So far, so good.

Injury update

Reich was unable to offer an update on linebacker Darius Leonard (back) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (knee).

“They don’t appear to be serious,’’ he said, “but we’ll monitor them during the week. We’re optimistic that they’ll be fine.’’

Rookie linebacker Jordan Glasgow is back in Indy after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday. The team got him back in town via a private charter.

“He’s doing well and he’s safe,’’ Reich said, adding the team believes Glasgow was an isolated case.

Q at LT

It was planned for, but still surprising to see. That would be All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson taking seven snaps at left tackle in the first quarter when Anthony Castonzo temporarily departed the Raiders game.

Reich explained Nelson occasionally has taken reps at left tackle with the scout team during the week of practice. When he appeared comfortable at that spot and the availability of Castonzo remained in question, things ramped up a bit.

“We noticed that he looked pretty good doing it,’’ Reich said, “so at the beginning of the week we talked about the possibility of moving him out there. Later in the week rather than just have him run some scout team reps, we did get him a couple of reps with the first team at left tackle.

“It seemed like AC was going to be able to go, but we weren’t 100% sure so we kind of kept Quenton in the mix.’’

How’d he fare with his first experience at left tackle?

“Looked good,’’ Reich said. “His pass sets really looked good. Not surprising. Just knew that he would be up for the challenge.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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