Down in the standings and likely down in the doldrums after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the rival Tennessee Titans, the Indianapolis Colts rebounded in emphatic fashion on Thursday night.
The resounding rebound was bolstered by quarterback Carson Wentz, who had arguably his finest outing as a Colt, and running back Jonathan Taylor , who tallied a career-high 172 yards rushing in Indianapolis' 45-30 win.
"That was huge. I mean, especially on a short week. It kind of forced us. You got to come in right back to work and it was set up perfectly: prime-time game, home. So it was set up perfect for us to kind of come in here and bounce back from that loss," Taylor said of coming back from the 34-31 overtime defeat just four days earlier.
Wentz took on the brunt of the blame for the Titans' loss due to two late turnovers. On Thursday, he shared in the spotlight with Taylor, as Wentz turned in a 22-of-30 night passing for 272 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also had a 134.3 QB rating.
"Carson Wentz was freaking flawless tonight. Flawless," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "Complete command of the offense today. He played really good football."
After barely completing 50% of his passes and throwing two disastrous interceptions the week before, Wentz was able to put that behind him in Thursday night's stellar showing.
"Had no choice when you play a Thursday night game," Wentz said. "I watched it that night and woke up Monday morning and it was on to the Jets. That's the same mindset I had and everybody else had. We know it was a big, emotional loss last week but we had to flush it quick and turn around. I'm happy with the way we came out today."
Now 4-5, the Colts are the No. 12 seed in the AFC playoff picture and a far sight behind the Titans (6-2), who own a season sweep of Indy, in the AFC South standings. But eight games and plenty of season remain.
Naysayers will point to this being against a porous Jets defense that's ranked 28th in the league.
Still, the Colts took care of business and did what many thought they should do. In the process, they scored a season-high 45 points and hit 30 points or more for the fourth week in a row.
Wentz showed shades of his best days as an Eagle, and Taylor showed once more why he's a rising star in this league and already one of the NFL's top running backs.
Taylor had touchdown runs of 21 and 78 yards, the latter coming on an untouched sprint to the house in the third quarter that put the game out of reach, even with a spirited Jets comeback late.
The 78-yard score was the second-longest run of the NFL season so far with an 83-yard gallop by Taylor earlier in the year still tops on the list.
"When I can turn around and have one-play drives -- I think JT took it 75 or something like that -- those are the best drives in football for a quarterback," Wentz said. "You can just turn around and give it to the guy. Whatever the total number -- 200-plus rushing yards today -- JT, both him and Nyheim [Hines]. Then some screens from the backfield and those guys played unbelievable. The big guys up front, I don't think JT got touched on the long run, so those big guys up front they had their work cut out for them today and they did a tremendous job."
As Indy aims to turn its season around and make a playoff push, excellent outings from Wentz and Taylor such as Thursday's certainly bode well. It was as balanced an offensive effort as it was tremendous, with the Colts' 272 yards passing and 260 rushing standing as just the second time since 1950 that the franchise has had 250-plus rushing and 250-plus passing yards in a game, per NFL Research. The other was in 1956, during a Baltimore Colts win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Wentz marched the Colts 88 yards on eight plays to open the Colts' offensive, with Hines' 34-yard touchdown run culminating the opening salvo.
Taylor found pay dirt for the first time on the Colts' second drive via a 21-yard score through the left side.
Then Wentz tossed a 1-yard score to Jack Doyle to open up a two-score lead and the rout was on. A Wentz TD strike to Michael Pittman led to a 28-10 halftime lead for the Colts.
It was the opening Indy needed, scoring on its first four drives of the game.
"A lot of emotion, obviously, from last week. To come out swinging the way we did, that was encouraging," Wentz said. "Obviously, in all three phases we would love to finish better, but to get up early and kind of -- those first, I think, four drives I think we scored offensively -- that was definitely encouraging and something we needed."
Taylor's 78-yard scoring sprint stood as the game's biggest highlight and one of three Colts touchdown runs, all of them from more than 20 yards out.
"I mean, it kind of drains them," said Taylor of the effect long runs have on a defense. "I would think it drains them. It's like, 'Man, he just scored in one play and we didn't make him work for it.' And you kind of take the life at of them, I would say. That's my perspective at least. So, you just try and get as many of those as you can in order to try and break their will. I mean, this game is about who is the toughest the longest."
There's more life left in the Colts, though, who rebounded in fine fashion from a tough loss. They got back on the winning track Thursday with Wentz and Taylor leading the way. We'll see where it takes them.