Time for Colts to turn it up

After faltering early, the Indianapolis Colts have clawed their way back to .500.

But now is the time for the team to show it has the stuff to make a true playoff push.

This Sunday’s game against the dangerous Buffalo Bills may be the pivotal point in the NFL season for a club that has insisted that despite starting the 2021 season 0-3, it was both good enough and capable enough to rebound and reach the playoffs.

Prove it now.

The Colts take a 5-5 record into the match with the 6-3 Bills. This is not where they wanted to be, but they dug themselves such a canyon of a hole starting the season they have been recovering since September.

With defending Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay to follow, this shapes up as the defining stretch of the schedule for the Colts. This is where they wanted to be after that brutal 0-3 start — with a chance to make a statement.

Last weekend, Indianapolis worked to outlast Jacksonville 23-17, a team the Colts owed for an aggravating loss last year. Coach Frank Reich seemed very content with the job the defense performed in holding down the Jaguars.

“Defensively, after watching the tape, I really thought we did a good job affecting the quarterback – a lot of hits, a lot of legal hits on the quarterback, a lot of pressure,” Reich said. “So that was a good sign, and it came from a four-man rush and it came from pressure packages, so that was good. I thought the secondary played one of their better games of the year.”

The defense must be as firm during these upcoming games, so it was an optimistic note.

Offensively, Reich likes to steer a solid ground-based offense. It apparently gives him a sense of security. So he should toss roses at Jonathan Taylor’s feet. The second-year running back out of Wisconsin has got the whole league talking. Taylor keeps collecting 100 yards rushing each game and keeps making big plays.

The Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry has been the NFL’s best running back by a large margin over the last couple of years. He was leading in yards gained again, but now that he is injured, Taylor has actually caught up — tying him with 937 yards.

When the Colts acquired quarterback Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles, there was much ado about his previous relationship with Reich. The problem with Wentz in the early stages, training camp and over the first couple of games is that he had a couple of injuries.

Also, he has resisted taking the COVID-19 vaccine. As the disease has shown, it does not discriminate, and Wentz could be the next Aaron Rodgers (sort of) missing a game from a sudden positive test.

While Wentz has not been another Tom Brady on the field, there are few complaints about his play. His statistics are not fantastic, but he has done a good job protecting the ball.

A blossoming association with second-year receiver Michael Pittman Jr. is paying dividends. Pittman, out of USC, came from the same draft class as Taylor and was another valuable pick. He also seems to be improving weekly and has 56 catches for 729 yards.

No one will be surprised if a Wentz-Pittman connection explodes on Buffalo or Tampa Bay at the most needed time.

“They’re just growing trust and confidence in each other,” said Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. “Obviously, he’s (Pittman) a guy that you want to continue to get the ball.”

Indianapolis finished 11-5 in the regular season last year, and it would take a mighty and unlikely effort to win out this season to equal that record. The Colts would be the golden boys of the NFL if they pulled that off.

They were on the road for the first round of the playoffs and lost 27-24 — to these Buffalo Bills. Buffalo showed its potential, but the Bills do not seem as powerful this season. The Colts have trainloads of motivation this time, between that loss to end 2020 and the necessity to keep on winning now.

This very much looms as a crossroads game for the Colts.