Jonathan Taylor's five-TD day powers Colts' rout of Bills

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Facing the first game in a critical portion of the schedule, a surging Indianapolis team broke through a bunch of narratives that have been following this team on the same field where their 2020 season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion in the playoffs.

The Colts are firmly in the middle of the AFC playoff race.

Riding a historic performance from budding superstar Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis steamrolled Buffalo 41-15 in an overwhelming performance that broke a streak of eight consecutive losses in games against 2020 playoff teams and puts Indianapolis right in the middle of the playoff picture.

The Colts (6-5) have now won five of their last six games, battling back into the AFC playoff race after a 1-4 start.

Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) trails behind as Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs in a touchdown during the third quarter of the game on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) trails behind as Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs in a touchdown during the third quarter of the game on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

1. Jonathan Taylor is so dominant that he might be forcing his way into the MVP discussion

Facing a Buffalo defense that entered Sunday’s game ranked No. 1 in the NFL overall and No. 3 in the league against the run in yards and rushing DVOA, the Colts budding superstar appeared to have a tough matchup.

But the Bills had played just one team with a back like Taylor so far this season: Tennessee’s Derrick Henry. And with Henry on injured reserve, Taylor firmly took over the title of the NFL’s best back by ripping through Buffalo’s defense.

Taylor rushed 32 times for 185 yards and four touchdowns, added three catches for 19 yards and a 23-yard score and dominated Buffalo’s defense so thoroughly that most of a rabid Buffalo fan base left the game in the third quarter.

The Colts superstar back made plenty of history in the process.

No Colt, either in Baltimore or Indianapolis, had ever scored five touchdowns in a single game, and Taylor became just the fifth player in NFL history to pile up four rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in one game, joining Dub Jones in 1951, Abner Hayes in 1961, Gale Sayers in 1965 and Shaun Alexander in 2002.

In a season without a clearly defined MVP candidate, Taylor’s emergence should put him in the thick of the MVP race, especially if he can continue to lift the Colts in the AFC playoff race.

2. Colts defense turns in its best game against an elite quarterback since 2019

For so long, the Matt Eberflus era in Indianapolis has been defined by a defense that is excellent against the run but struggles against the game’s best quarterbacks.

A cold, wet day in Buffalo didn’t make it easy on Bills quarterback Josh Allen, an MVP candidate in his own right.

But the Colts defense turned in its best game since shutting down Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City in 2019.

Indianapolis did it by taking away Allen’s chances to make the big play. The Colts sacked Allen just once, but they kept the scrambling Buffalo quarterback in the pocket — a problem throughout the playoff loss in January — and forced him into incompletions and mistakes. Allen was picked off by free safety George Odum on the first drive, picked off by Kenny Moore after a Xavier Rhodes pass breakup.

Most importantly, Colts rookie Kwity Paye took away any chance Buffalo had to replicate last year’s comeback in the playoff game. A year ago, the Bills drove for a key score right before the half; Paye ripped the ball out of Allen’s hands for a sack that forced a missed 57-yard field goal, allowing Indianapolis to put its foot on Buffalo’s throat.

3. The Colts special teams didn’t make mistakes

In a game of two good kicking units, Buffalo’s kept making mistakes.

Kicker Tyler Bass missed two field goals, and excellent Bills return man Isaiah McKenzie fumbled a kickoff right before the half despite not getting hit by an Indianapolis defender. T.J. Carrie picked it up and returned it to the 2-yard line, setting up a critical Taylor score that gave Indianapolis a 24-7 lead at the half.

The Indianapolis special teams played clean, crisp football despite the conditions.

Michael Badgley cemented his hold on the kicking job by making all seven of his kicks — two field goals, five extra points — in cold, wet conditions, Rigoberto Sanchez pinned the Bills deep inside the 10 on one of his only punts and Isaiah Rodgers opened the game with a nice 33-yard return that set the tone.

On a day when Taylor was dominant and the defense was good, the special teams play likely got overlooked, but the lack of mistakes and big plays in field position played a key role in an enormous Indianapolis win that few people saw coming.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Jonathan Taylor's five-touchdown day powers Colts' rout of Bills