Colts continue playoff push by beating Cardinals on Christmas

December 26, 2021
Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker brings down Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) in the first half at State Farm Stadium.
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — A resilient Colts team fought off a COVID-19 outbreak and the loss of most of the key components to its offensive line to pick up the sort of win on Christmas night that essentially puts Indianapolis in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot.

By outlasting a slumping Arizona Cardinals team in the desert 22-16, the Colts pushed their playoff chances to almost a lock, and their record against playoff teams to 4-4 this season.

Indianapolis (9-6) now has a 98% of reaching the playoffs, according to fivethirtyeight.com, and likely needs just one more win to clinch a spot. The Colts finish the season vs. the Raiders and at the Jaguars, who are currently sport the NFL’s worst record at 2-12. 

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night’s game:

Carson Wentz comes through in crunch time

Frank Reich predicted it this week.

At some point, the Colts were going to need their starting quarterback to come up big in crunch time and win a game.

Reich has long believed Wentz would rise to the occasion.

Wentz got his opportunity on Christmas night, and he proved his head coach right. Frustrated, struggling behind an offensive line that was missing four of its preferred starters for the entire second half, Wentz was clearly jumpy, worried about the pressure, and for a little while it looked like he wasn’t going to rise to the moment.

Wentz had been solid in the first half, completing 11 of 14 passes for 97 yards, but he started the second half 1 of 6, and it was clear the Colts needed their quarterback to make some plays on a night when Jonathan Taylor had to grind and scrap for 108 yards on 27 carries.

But then Wentz found himself, right when the Colts needed it most.

Wentz got hot by firing the ball into tight windows, first to Mo Alie-Cox on a play where Arizona safety Budda Baker fell down, allowing Alie-Cox to run away for 38 yards, then hitting T.Y. Hilton in coverage for a key third-down completion to set up the go-ahead field goal.

On that drive, he was tough.

Wentz was brilliant on the next. Facing a 2nd-and-17, Wentz faked a handoff to Taylor, then hit Michael Pittman Jr. for 20 yards and a critical first down. A few plays later, he held the secondary with his eyes, then fired deep to T.Y. Hilton for 31 yards. A field goal wouldn’t help much, and the Colts needed a touchdown.

The Colts’ quarterback bought time, rolled to his left and fired an awkward throw perfectly to Dezmon Patmon for the game-sealing touchdown. Wentz’s numbers on the night — 18 of 28 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions — weren’t eye-popping, but it was exactly what the Colts needed on a night when they didn’t have seven starters and two other key players, largely due to the coronavirus.

Depleted Colts defense finds a way

As bad of shape as the Indianapolis offensive line ended up being in, the defense actually began the night in worse position.

The team’s COVID-19 breakout cost the Colts their All-Pro linebacker and emotional leader in Darius Leonard, best cornerback in Rock Ya-Sin and starting strong safety Khari Willis, along with pass rush specialist Kemoko Turay, plus having already lost safety Andrew Sendejo due to a concussion. The players Indianapolis had replacing them didn’t have anywhere near the same experience as the offensive line.

Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus came up with one of his signature performances in Indianapolis.

The Colts weren’t dominant defensively. Indianapolis did not have a sack, and the Colts did not force a turnover.

But they forced Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray to check down consistently, limited his chances to score touchdowns and put the ball at the foot of Matt Prater, Arizona’s normally talented kicker who was hamstrung by the loss of his holder.

Prater missed three kicks, the Cardinals punched just one ball into the end zone, and the Colts defense did enough to let Wentz get going.

Discipline, resilience carry the day

Indianapolis faced a situation a lot of NFL teams have struggled to overcome in recent weeks.

Seven starters out, plus the loss of almost the entire rest of the offensive line, and a battered, bruised roster. Other teams have fought gamely, but been unable to play the sort of gritty, tough game needed to win.

Under Frank Reich, though, the Colts’ defining characteristic might be resilience.

Indianapolis pounded away with Taylor, who picked up 108 yards on 27 carries, battled through the offensive line injuries and then got a big score in crunch time.

More importantly, the Colts did not shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly like the stumbling Cardinals.

Backup Arizona center Max Garcia botched two snaps, including one that caused Murray to give up a safety by drawing an intentional grounding in the end zone. Arizona committed 11 penalties for 85 yards, including several that extended drives, and failed to force the Colts to commit a turnover.

Outside of a missed 53-yard field goal by Michael Badgley and an impressive trick punt return to set up an Arizona touchdown, the Cardinals failed to match the moment, and Indianapolis had the mettle to put it away.

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Life is like a running cycle right! I am a news editor at TIMES. Collecting News is my passion. Because my visitors have the right to know the truth and perfectly.

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