INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts have waited four long years for a prime time game.
They’ve waited even longer for a win.
Indianapolis made sure the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd got what it wanted, fighting off any hangover left over from Sunday’s disheartening loss to the Titans by rolling through the hapless New York Jets for a 45-30 win. It gets the Colts back on track heading into their first mini-bye of the season, a 10-day break before the Nov. 14 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Colts (4-5) still have a lot of work to do to get back into the AFC playoff picture, but a loss would have crushed those hopes.
Indianapolis Colts teammates celebrate with Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines (21) after he scored a touchdown Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, during a game against the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Pound for pound, the Colts have to have the fastest running back tandem in the NFL.
Taylor ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. Hines ran it in 4.38, albeit at 28 pounds lighter than his future teammate. Both men are former track stars.
Indianapolis liked the matchup of its offensive line against New York’s defensive line, decided to ride its horses and the Taylor-Hines combination spent most of the game making the Jets defense look like a bunch of plodding Clydesdales.
Hines, who hasn’t always been as effective as a runner as he’s been a receiver in his career, got it started, breaking free over the left side and running away with a 34-yard touchdown on the Colts’ first drive for the longest run of his NFL career. Used as a change of pace to Taylor all night, he’d add an 11-yard carry and a 25-yard carry, finishing with 74 yards on six rushes and four catches for 34 yards.
But he was just setting the table for Taylor, who is staking his claim as one of the best backs in the league in just his second season in the NFL. Taylor tore through the Jets defense, bursting through the left side and racing away with a 21-yard touchdown on the next series, and as the Colts offense continued to roll over the Jets, Taylor kept piling up yards, searching for his signature breakaway.
The big play finally came in the third quarter. Taylor saw a hole to the right, hit it hard and raced away with a 78-yard touchdown, the longest touchdown run in the NFL this season. Taylor finished with 172 yards on 19 carries, showing a primetime audience what the Colts have known since the beginning f training camp.
Indianapolis finished with 260 yards on 30 carries, an incredible 9.3 average.
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Wentz was coming off his worst performance of the season, an inefficient performance in a game the Colts had to have against the Titans, punctuated by a pair of brutal interceptions, one a pick-six at the end of regulation and the other a back-breaker on the second possession of overtime.
The Colts starting quarterback bounced back nicely against the Jets.
Playing a complementary game with Taylor and Hines going off on the ground, Wentz mostly had to take the easy throws Frank Reich dialed up in the offense, and he did a nice job throughout, particularly in a critical two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
Wentz made two big throws on the drive, the first on a 17-yard strike to Ashton Dulin in a difficult window on the sideline, the second on a gorgeous strike over the middle to Michael Pittman Jr., who made a strong catch with his hands and held on for three steps before a Jets defensive back punched it out, a move that fooled the referees into thinking it was incomplete, at least until they watched the tape.
Operating with plenty of time in the pocket — Wentz was sacked just once — the Indianapolis quarterback completed 22 of 30 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns, did not throw an interception and tossed his last touchdown to offensive lineman Danny Pinter for the kind of highlight that leaves everybody feeling pretty good.
3. Offensive explosion hid an iffy night for the Colts pass defense
The way the Colts offense played, the Indianapolis defense didn’t have to do an awful lot. When Darius Leonard punched out another forced fumble for his league-leading ninth turnover-producing play of the season, he’d done just about all the offense was going to need.
But the Indianapolis defense probably would have liked to do a better job stepping on the throat of a Jets team that came into Lucas Oil Stadium without No. 2 pick Zach Wilson available at quarterback and lost its backup sensation, Mike White, to a forearm injury, putting practice squad elevation Josh Johnson into the game.
Johnson, a former Colt, should have been overwhelmed.
Instead, the 35-year-old veteran completed 27 of 41 passes for 317 yards, three touchdowns and one interceptions, shredding an Indianapolis secondary that is now missing both starting safeties and largely avoiding the Colts pass rush, outside of backup nose tackle Taylor Stallworth, who had two sacks.
The Colts defense is still good against the run — Indianapolis has the league’s No. 1-ranked run defense according to DVOA — but Indianapolis continues to struggle against the pass, and the fact that Johnson and White combined to go 34 of 52 for 398 yards, four touchdowns and one interceptions was a little disturbing on a night that was mostly a celebration.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis Colts blow out New York Jets on Thursday Night Football