This is the kind of performance the Indianapolis Colts envisioned in April when they drafted running back Jonathan Taylor in the second round.
The rookie had snowballed a couple of solid performances together in recent weeks, then the avalanche came Sunday in Las Vegas, and the Raiders were on the wrong end at Allegiant Stadium.
Taylor had a career-high 150 yards on 20 carries (7.5 avg.) and two rushing touchdowns while the team rumbled to a season-high 212 yards on 31 carries (6.8 avg.). He was the catalyst as the Colts pulled away in the second half to steamroll the Raiders, 44-27.
"The offensive line was definitely clicking today,” Taylor said. “Reads were clicking, my reads were clicking today, and one of the biggest things is realizing that timing element, building that rapport.”
The Colts (9-4), who enjoyed their highest point total since 2014, moved up to the sixth playoff spot in AFC seeding with three games remaining.
Nyheim Hines added 58 rushing yards on seven carries (8.3 avg.), including a season-long 31-yard run early in the fourth quarter. Behind Taylor and Hines’ efforts, the Colts put together their most productive day running the ball in nearly a year.
Running the football — or better yet, “Run The Damn Ball” — has been the Colts' identity in recent years, but they’ve struggled to establish the run with regularity this season. The Colts racked up 151 rushing yards in Week 2, didn’t reach 125 again until Week 10, but have averaged 130 per game since.
The biggest change appears to be taking the governor off of Taylor.
He carried the ball 35 times in the first two games of the season, but then his involvement began to dwindle as more of a committee approach was implemented, and his carries averaged just 11.1 per game between Weeks 3-10.
Some sort of switch then flipped, because Taylor was given 22 carries the following week, and it sparked something in the Colts offense. He turned those carries into 90 yards that week in a win against the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. The next week, he compiled 91 yards on just 13 carries in a much-needed divisional win over the Houston Texans.
And then came the explosion against the Raiders, the latest example of continually climbing career games for Taylor.
“There is something there,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “I believe I’ve seen a confidence and getting the game to slow down. We’ve been talking about this as an offense for the whole year, even when we weren’t getting the yardage we wanted, we just kept saying, ‘Guys be patient. We’re getting better. We are doing the little things right. We’re not reaping all the benefits now, but just stick with it.’ I really believe that.
“We talked a lot about that as an offense, that we will be ascending at just the right time, and Jonathan is a big part of that with the way he is seeing it and running it.”
Taylor was mauling the Raiders from the get-go in the first half as he continually powered through and pushed defenders back and he kept his legs driving.
By the end of the day, he had seven plays of 10-plus yards as well as a 20-yard reception. It was the most productive day for a Colts rookie running back since Joseph Addai had 171 yards in a game in 2006.
Taylor’s most notable play — most reminiscent of his college days at Wisconsin — was a career-long 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put the Colts up by 10 points.
“It was huge,” Colts quarterback Philip Rivers said of the hole Taylor ran through. “They brought pressure off the backside and our guys, frontside, did a great job of getting in reach. The backside guys did a great job of cutting it off. And then, I think you just saw pure speed. I mean, that is a big man that can run fast. I kept thinking they’re going to get him, and they just couldn’t catch him.”
Taylor earned plenty of milestones. He reached his 1,000th yard from scrimmage to become just the fourth Colts player to do so in his first 12 games as he joined Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, and Addai.
The Colts offense has found a rhythm lately, and a big part of the recipe appears to be leaning on the obvious: give the ball to Taylor, and run the damn ball.
For now, Sunday’s effort and his big run were a relief for Taylor.
"It definitely felt good to get some fresh air," he said.
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