INDIANAPOLIS — They found a way.
What is the goal, right?
Hear from a battered and bruised Matt Ryan after he and the Indianapolis Colts found a way by turning an unsightly Thursday night meeting with the Broncos in Denver into an absolute masterpiece in the form of a 12- 9 in overtime.
“Winnings are what we need,” he said. “We have to play better than we did tonight, but at the end of the day you have to win games, even if you try to find out what we can be.
“I’m proud of the fact that we did this.”
It was Ryan’s 237e career game and its 44e return to fourth quarter/overtime; it is the sixth in NFL history. His second in three weeks was built on Chase McLaughlin’s fourth field goal of the night — a 48-yarder in the Colts’ overtime opener — and cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s deflection of a pass from Russell Wilson in fourth-and-1 at Indy 5 with 2:38 remaining.
“(Wilson) kept trying me, so I made him pay,” Gilmore said on Amazon Prime.
It happened after Denver’s first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett went for the jugular late in the fourth quarter. Leading 9-6 and facing a 3rd-and-4 at Indy 13, he dialed in a Wilson pass that was aimed at Tyrie Cleveland in the end zone.
A field goal could have sealed it given how soft the Colts are on offense and a touchdown would have essentially ended it. Instead, Gilmore gave the offense one more chance with his first interception as a Colt.
Ryan made them pay. On a 10-play, 67-yard run, he completed 5 of 7 passes for 52 yards, including 11- and 17-yard connections to rookie Alec Pierce and a 10-yard to Parris Campbell. Deon Jackson’s 17-yard run to the 17 set up McLaughlin’s 31-yard field goal that forced overtime.
“I’ve played long enough to know that as long as you have a chance at the end of the game. . .” said Ryan. “I’m not going to flinch in these situations.”
He described the game as “a slog” and “weird” dropped passes.
And remember, All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor missed the game with an ankle injury, which was aggravated when substitute Nyheim Hines suffered a concussion in the third game of the game. That left things in the hands of Deon Jackson and former Bronco Phillip Lindsay.
But they found a way.
Listen to Frank Reich.
“Those are hard to win,” he said. “You come on the road Thursday night. . . it is a victory. We will find ways to improve in attack, but we played well enough to get the win tonight.
“The tone in the dressing room is ‘Big win, gritty win’. There’s a closeness to this team which I think bodes well for us.
Credit the defense for keeping things winnable as Ryan and the offense kept finding ways to lose him. Consider the Colts’ first five drives: four Matt Haack punts and one Ryan interception.
At halftime, Wilson and the Broncos had 103 yards, seven first downs and a pair of field goals from Brandon McManus.
Yes, they found a way.
And that’s the beauty of the NFL.
The ongoing malaise of the offense is reaching historic depths. He has failed to score at least 20 points in seven consecutive games – the longest streak since eight consecutive games in 1993 – and the 69 points are the club’s lowest in the first five games since 1998 (57).
The Colts won without scoring a touchdown for just 12e time in team history and the first since a 15-6 field goal game in a 2006 Divisional Round meeting with the Ravens in Baltimore.
Also, it was the first time in 15 seasons that Ryan left the field as the winner without scoring a touchdown.
As the offense struggled against Denver’s defense — 306 total yards, 4 of 16 on third down, those five sacks — Gilmore and the defense were strengths throughout the game. Gilmore had five tackles to go along with the interception and two passes defended.
“That’s the definition of a great player, man: make the plays in the moment,” Reich said. “And he made both huge plays, I mean massive plays.
“The defense was already playing great, and those big plays obviously helped win this game.”
So did tackle DeForest Buckner, with eight tackles and 2 sacks while playing with a left elbow injury that Reich called “significant”.
Instead of going home 1-3-1, the Colts found a way out of Empower Field at Mile High 2-2-1.
“Shoot, we’re not happy with 2-2-1,” Reich said, “but we’re here. And that’s what we said. It’s a better start than some of the other years we’ve had here.
“But we have to improve.”
The magnitude of the victory did not escape Irsay.
“It was one of those where you had to get it,” he said. “We’re excited and excited, man.”
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.
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