The Indianapolis Colts may have been the No. 7 seed in the AFC, but they came into Orchard Park and gave the Buffalo Bills quite a fight this week. In a regular year, the 11-win Colts would have missed the playoffs. With an expanded playoff field, not only did they make the tournament, but the No. 2 seed had to play on Wild Card Weekend.
While the Colts were able to erase a 24-10 deficit before ultimately falling 27-24, Indianapolis left plays and points on the field all throughout the afternoon. A failed fourth-down conversion, a missed 33-yard field goal, and some easy dropped passes were too much to overcome against an excellent Buffalo team.
Which of our five Colts to watch performed well? Read on below to find out.
The veteran looked every bit the future Hall of Fame quarterback on Saturday, as he was able to gut out a 300-yard performance while avoiding a turnover on the day. True, Buffalo had some near-misses on defense, with Rivers delicately placing passes right through the hands of a few Bills defenders (one that barely eluded Micah Hyde comes to mind). While Rivers only completed 59 percent of his passes, his receivers didn’t help him much, as there were more than a few perfectly-placed balls that glanced off the hands of a Colts receiver. Rivers hit two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and very nearly pulled off a great comeback on the road. Instead, he was sent home with his first career loss in a Wild Card game.
RB Jonathan Taylor
Buffalo clearly wanted to focus on containing Taylor, and they did just that for the majority of the game. In the first half, Taylor rushed 14 times for 40 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, Taylor ran seven times for 38 yards. Nyheim Hines ran four times for 70 yards in the second half, with much of that total coming on two huge fourth-quarter carries. The difference was that Buffalo settled in to play the pass once they went up by two scores. In what was a very early-90s Bills maneuver, head coach Frank Reich kept the “11” personnel in there and ran some shotgun draw plays that brought back memories of Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. The Bills were able to limit Taylor when the game was close and they were entirely focused on it, but they’ll need to be better about limiting the poison they’ve picked in the Divisional Round against the Baltimore Ravens.
WR T.Y. Hilton
Buffalo chose to keep Hilton in check rather than Michael Pittman Jr., and the strategy very nearly backfired. Pittman Jr. burned Buffalo for four catches and 91 yards in the first half while Tre’Davious White spent a lot of time as the nearest man to Hilton. Once they switched that, though, the Bills shut down Pittman Jr. and were still able to control Hilton, who ended the game with just two catches for 32 yards. Hilton was the target on the desperate heave at the end of the game, which was batted down emphatically by Micah Hyde.
DL DeForest Buckner
Josh Allen was not under pressure very often, but when he was, much of that pressure came off the edge. That’s probably because the Bills focused on limiting Buckner like they did Cam Heyward in their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in December. Buckner made two tackles and hit Allen once, which has to be considered a win for Buffalo. As the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December who totaled 9.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hits on the season, Buckner was a huge focal point of the Bills’ offensive game plan. Ike Boettger and company did a nice job keeping him out of the backfield.
LB Darius Leonard
The Colts’ rangy, uber-talented middle linebacker had a phenomenal game. He led all players in tackles with 12, including one big stick on Josh Allen when the quarterback was one shimmy away from picking up a first down on a run. While Leonard did not break up any passes, his length and athleticism influenced throwing lanes over the middle, causing Allen to hold the ball a bit and wait on a few throws. On one in particular to John Brown, Allen had to force the ball into double-coverage without leading Brown, which gave the trail corner a chance to break up the pass. Leonard was named to his second Pro Bowl for a reason, and even though he couldn’t help his team earn the victory against another squad that passed on drafting him, it wasn’t due to lack of effort.