Colts must win, baby

It was almost like being in a science fiction movie at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night during the Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots game.

Everywhere you looked, there was Jonathan Taylor. Everywhere you looked, guys wore blue and white No. 28 Taylor jerseys.

This was like some promotion where the Colts invited everyone whose name was Jonathan Taylor to the game. Or a late Halloween party with multiple Jonathan Taylors.

Actually, as far as we know, there was only one Jonathan Taylor in the house. He was attired similarly, though with more padding under his shirt. The JT on the field ripped up the Patriots in the 27-17 victory, including a stake-in-their-vampire-heart fourth-quarter touchdown run of 67 yards.

Right now, there is no athlete in the vicinity who is a hotter property than Taylor. No one else on the 8-6 Colts. No one on the Pacers. No one at IU. The guy is leading the NFL with 1,518 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns, and on Monday, he was named to the Pro Bowl.

He is the athletic god of the moment, the reason why the Colts can still hope to make the playoffs. The other day with his 170 yards rushing, he was almost Indianapolis’ whole offense.

Passing game? We don’t need no stinkin’ passing game. Or at least the Colts aren’t displaying one with Carson Wentz going 5-for-12 for 57 yards. It’s all JT, all the time.

No wonder fans are excited. Taylor has put his stamp on the team in his second year out of the University of Wisconsin, where he was a record-setting back. When the offensive line doesn’t actually create a lane on the interstate for him, he makes his own. Watch Taylor on those replays as he reads the landscape and takes one step left or right almost in pause motion.

Then, whoosh. Or though he is 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds, he carries a couple of tacklers for extra yards, though they outweigh him by 50 or 70 pounds.

Teammates got as pumped as the fans when Taylor burst away on the big TD.

“I heard the crowd erupt and I was like, ‘He’s gone,’” said tackle Braden Smith, who was busy blocking, so he didn’t spy Taylor until he was 20 yards downfield by his lonesome.

It is daunting trying to win in the NFL in this era without an explosive passing game, but the Colts are progressing the old-fashioned grind-it-out way. Thank you, Mr. Taylor.

Their 1-4 start appeared a hopeless roadblock to the playoffs, and even going 7-2 in recovery mode, half the American Football Conference is right there chasing the same playoff slots.

“The confidence level is high,” Taylor said. “It’s the same mentality every week, 1-0. Same routine. Don’t change, don’t waver.”

Division winners go to the playoffs. The Colts aren’t going to win the AFC South Division unless the 9-5 Tennessee Titans (with tiebreaker in hand, too) fall apart. After that, it is a free-for-all for wild cards.

The Colts are 8-6 and not in first place. The Buffalo Bills are in the same situation in their division at 8-6. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are both 8-6 and tied for first in their division. The Los Angeles Chargers are 8-6 and second in the AFC West.

As if that is not crowded enough in the kitchen, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-6-1, and the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos are all 7-7.

That makes nine teams in the AFC tied with the Colts or within one game of them in the standings. Obviously, not all of these teams are going to win all their remaining games. The Patriots win was sweet, but all it truly did was allow the Colts to run in place.

The Colts have to be the ones to win out. It’s the only way to ensure a playoff spot. The Colts play Arizona, Las Vegas and Jacksonville. If they win three, they’re in. If they lose two, they’re probably dead. If they win two out of three, it depends on what everyone else does.

Of course, only the Colts have Jonathan Taylor. A couple hundred of them, apparently, who shop for clothes in the same place.