INDIANAPOLIS – There was plenty of highlight material from the greatest game by a running back in the history of a franchise that features four backs with bronze busts in Canton, Ohio.
Jonathan Taylor chose to spend a few minutes on a 6-yard run.
Not 56-yard burst through the left side of the line on the Indianapolis Colts’ third offensive snap Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and not the 45-yard dagger/TD through the left side that sealed the gotta-have-it 28-14 victory.
It was a 6-yarder that, yes, pushed his total to a franchise-record 253 yards – tied for the 9th-most in a single game in NFL history – but did so much more. After a long, prolific afternoon, it was Taylor, the rookie out of Wisconsin, who quarterback Philip Rivers turned to when a clinching first down was required.
“One of the most satisfying ones was the very last one,’’ Taylor said Sunday evening on a Zoom conference call. “Philip came into the huddle and said, ‘One more first down will do it. Then we can go into victory mode.’
“The game’s not over till it’s over, so getting into victory mode and knowing, ‘Hey, we’ve got to secure this kneel-down and we’re in the playoffs.’ It was a good feeling to know we just had to get that first down and my number was called.
“That was my job, to get that first down.’’
Consider it the exclamation mark on a historic afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. The victory sends the Colts into a first-round playoff meeting Saturday with the Buffalo Bills.
A rookie season that unfolded in fits and starts and included a journey to Rock Bottom in weeks 9-10 against Baltimore and Tennessee – a combined 39 yards on 13 carries, and a lost fumble against the Ravens – ended with a flourish. Over his final six games, Taylor showed power and speed while piling up 741 yards and seven TDs on 129 carries.
He joined Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes as the only Colts’ rookies to crack the 1,000-yard mark. Taylor’s 1,169 yards rank 3rd in the NFL.
Taylor and James are the only Colts to rush for at least 200 yards, and James did it twice. Three other Hall of Famers – Faulk, Eric Dickerson and Lenny Moore – never reached such rarified air.
Nyheim Hines’ eyes lit up when he considered Taylor’s 253. Four of the Colts’ five longest offensive plays were Taylor runs: 56, 45, 29 and 20 yards.
“JT thought he was at Wisconsin today,’’ Hines said. “That was Badger JT and he brought that to the Colts today.
“I’m really proud to watch him and excited to watch him keep growing in his young career. He’s a really, really great player.’’
Coach Frank Reich believes in riding the hot hand, and had a feeling that would be Taylor against the Jaguars’ 30th-ranked run defense.
“Kinda had an idea coming in that we were going to do that,’’ he said. “This was such a big game, an important game . . . and he’s in Beast Mode.
“He’s earned that right. He certainly looked great today.’’
Taylor flashed the hot hand from the outset.
His first handoff resulted in an 11-yard gain. His second was a 56-yarder that gave the Colts a first-and-10 at the Jaguars 11-yard line. Two more short gainers set up Rivers’ 6-yard TD to T.Y. Hilton.
Rivers isn’t a stranger to working with an elite running back during his 17-year, 240-start career. He shared the Chargers’ backfield for six seasons with LaDainian Tomlinson, a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
This was something different.
“I don’t know that I’ve been around that,’’ Rivers said. “I know LT had some big days over the years. I don’t want to say he didn’t have one of those, but man, that was unbelievable.’’
Tomlinson cracked off a 199-yard game in 2006, and a 198-yarder in ’07 with Rivers feeding him. He never cracked 200.
“Unbelievable day by him and the guys up front,’’ Rivers said. “And yeah, had a great view of those runs. A lot of them were well-blocked and the ones where maybe they had another guy, he made some unbelievable cuts and runs.
“Obviously the long runs are the ones that stand out, but man, he had a lot of really good 7-to-12 yard runs that were awesome.’’
Rivers especially appreciated Taylor’s 45-yard TD that created the necessary separation. The Colts were looking to protect – or extend – a 20-14 lead with 3 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. Rivers stood over a second-and-5 at the Jaguars 45.
First, Taylor avoided defensive end Dawuane Smoot in the backfield. Then, he hit a hole over the left side only to be face-to-face with middle linebacker Joe Schobert. A quick stutter-step and double move left Schobert grasping air.
“Could have been a 2-yard gain and it ended up being a 40-yard touchdown,’’ Rivers said.
It also ignited an end zone celebration that was all-inclusive.
“Shoot, on one of the touchdowns I think I was the first guy there and I wasn’t even on the field,’’ Hines said of Taylor’s 45-yarder. “You could see the excitement, that’s what it’s like here.
“Look, as running backs, we like pass pro and that stuff, but there’s nothing like when we can just dominate a team and run behind the o-line and watch a running back have success.’’
Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard admitted he was “shocked’’ when the Colts selected Taylor in the second round of the April draft. But he gained an appreciation of Taylor’s skills during training camp and as the season unfolded. He watched as Taylor grew into the position, learned from his mistakes and went off against Jacksonville.
“It looked like he was just playing the backyard,’’ Leonard said.
If there is a negative to Taylor’s breakout game, it’s that everyone in the NFL noticed. That includes the Buffalo Bills.
“I know what Buffalo’s thinking . . . ‘That was the Jaguars. He won’t do that against us,’’’ Taylor said. “It’s over. It was a heckuva feat. It was a team effort, offensive line, all of us together.
“But those defenses are saying, ‘He won’t do that versus us.’ They don’t really care about it. Now, it’s enjoy it tonight. But it’s working tomorrow.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.