INDIANAPOLIS — Sheer domination.
That’s what the Indianapolis Colts put on display on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in a 36-7 mauling of the New York Jets.
It took just two and a half minutes into the game to see what kind of day it was going to be for the Colts (2-1) and Jets (0-3).
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold shuffled back, stared down his desired receiver along the left sideline and uncorked a pass in that direction that was snatched by Colts cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who returned the interception 44 yards for a touchdown and the first points.
The Jets got a little shimmer in their eye on their ensuing drive, as they drove 88 yards on 14 plays for their first touchdown, and what would ultimately be their only points of the game. However, it turned ugly again quickly.
Their next nine drives brought them five punts, three turnovers, and a safety, the latter being the Colts’ second in their last two weeks. It was the first time the team recorded consecutive games with a safety since 1960, and their first time with three interceptions in back-to-back games since 1992.
The Colts would return two of Darnold’s three interceptions for touchdowns. They haven’t done that since 1970, against — you guessed it — the Jets.
That’s 16 points for the Colts defense versus just seven for the Jets offense.
“Defensively, it was quite an effort,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “It was quite an effort. It was a unique game, right? To get the pick-six, (the) offense really didn't get on the field until the end of the first quarter, so just a unique game in that regard. (The) defense coming up big, scoring 16 points, back-to-back safeties in two games. That's quite an accomplishment. Just guys making plays all over the field. There was great individual play, but what we're more interested in is great team play, so defense played great.”
The Colts limited the Jets to 260 total yards of offense, which is in range with the defense’s league-leading 208-yard average.
The Jets converted just 3-of-12 third down attempts (25%), including throwing two of their interceptions on third down. The Jets failed to convert their only fourth-down attempt and were one-of-two in the red zone.
The Colts totally smothered the Jets passing game, holding them to 151 yards and sacking Darnold twice (Kenny Moore II, Justin Houston). The Colts also broke up five passes and had seven hits on the quarterback. Darnold averaged just 5.8 yards per pass attempt and had a passer rating of 47.0.
"It makes our job a lot easier when the guys in the front seven get to the quarterback or get the quarterback to get the ball out faster than he wants and make bad decisions,” Rhodes said. “I give thanks to those guys. It's like hand-in-hand; the rush helps the defenders, and the defenders help the rush. It goes hand-in-hand.”
Things didn’t go much better for the Jets on the ground as they compiled 109 yards on 29 carries (3.8 YPC). The Colts swarmed to the ball and showed toughness and attitude, racking up six tackles for loss. They hit hard and harassed the ball to try and rip it out of ball carriers’ grasp, making it a long day for the Jets from start to finish.
"We work on it each and every day,” Rhodes said. “Coach (defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) always tells us about turnovers, strip the ball, and doing everything we can to get the ball out. Or takeaways, interceptions, whatever we can do to get the offense back on the field as soon as possible.”
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard led the way (11 tackles, one for loss, one pass breakup), and the Colts got contributions from a few guys who weren’t pegged to see as much playing time just a couple of weeks ago in Week 1.
In the now season-long absence of free safety Malik Hooker, rookie Julian Blackmon got his first career start. Coming off his own significant injury at the end of the 2019 college season, he appeared to be on a “pitch count” on Sunday and was pulled from the game, being replaced by veteran Tavon Wilson, who had two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
T.J. Carrie — starting at cornerback for the second straight week while Rock Ya-Sin is out with a non-football illness — grabbed an interception for a second consecutive game and returned it 47 yards for his first-career touchdown.
Carrie broke down the play and explained how it was a mix of a coaching wrinkle that Eberflus put in place earlier this summer, as well as players putting their hard work in practice into a real-game scenario.
"It was good, man,” Carrie said. “It was really a dialed-up play by Coach ‘Flus,’ a play that we kinda worked on all throughout camp that really came to life. Definitely a disguised play that we felt like would give the quarterback a different post and pre-snap read. Forced the pressure, the defensive line came in and did their job and forced him to make an unadvised decision.
“The great ones always told me, ‘Catch the ones that come to you and you'll lead the league.’ So after that, it was just my job to catch it and return it. We've worked on interception drills a lot. That's something that our goal is — in that 40 range (takeaways) — so definitely guys coming back and getting blocks is all part of that whole situation.”
While Carrie may not have been “Plan A” for the Colts, his head coach is sure glad he was there when they needed him.
"I mean those two guys, here's two vets that come in and just play big-time,” Reich said of Rhodes and Carrie. “Xavier with the two picks, obviously the pick-six to start the game out was huge, and then making a play in the end zone.
“They (Jets) had a chance to maybe get a little something going. They really had put together two decent drives, I believe, and he (Rhodes) comes up with that big play (on his second interception). And T.J., same thing. Since he's been here, he's the ultimate pro. We know he's a winning player and gives us great versatility and great play. So, hats off to both those guys. I'm glad they're Colts.”
The Colts have taken care of inferior opponents two weeks in a row in the Minnesota Vikings and Jets, who are both winless. It will be interesting to see what they do moving forward as their schedule is tougher, starting next Sunday with a trip North to face the Chicago Bears (3-0).
(Jake Arthur has covered the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade and is a contributor for the team's official website, Colts.com. He’s on Twitter and Facebook @JakeArthurNFL, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)