FMIA Week 11: Jonathan Taylor Dominates Old-School + 10 Things To Love – Peter King, NBC
There was still time for the Bills to come back Sunday in sleety Orchard Park, N.Y., down 24-7 to the Colts early in the third quarter. Indianapolis had the ball, first down at the Buffalo 31, and coach Frank Reich loved this play-action call, and he called it. Incomplete. Penalty. The Colts got pushed out of field-goal range and had to punt. After the series was over, Reich decided to do something no coach in modern football does, and something he never does.
“Never, never, never,” Reich told me Sunday night.
“I decided I was going to run the ball on every first and second down from there on,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why?” he said. “Because every time we ran it, good things were happening. Every time we ran it, the pile was moving forward. And when you have Jonathan Taylor on your side, you know the pile’s going to keep moving.”
On the next 18 first and second downs, Reich was true to his words (almost perfectly). He called 17 runs on those 18 plays, and the lead ballooned to 41-15, and Taylor, mostly, bled the clock, finishing his 32-carry, 185-yard, five-touchdown day.
The Colts, in their most decisive win of the four-year Reich era, a win that catapulted them back into AFC South contention, had a 70-30 run-pass ratio while holding the ball for almost 38 minutes. Running it 70 percent of the time is unheard of in today’s football. The Colts played football the way Jim Brown and Jim Taylor used to: by imposing their will on the opponent. The Colts put up 41 points on a legit Super Bowl contender—and threw for a grand total of 106 yards along the way.
“This was an old-school football game,” Reich said.
And this was the coolest part: On the fourth play after Reich’s first-and-second-down run declaration, Indianapolis had a first down at midfield. Carson Wentz handed to Taylor, who burst off right tackle for 40 yards. First down now, at the Buffalo 10. As the playclock ticked down, Reich called another run, this time where Taylor could choose his own hole to the left. And he felt his coaches wondering, Aren’t you going to give him a break after running for 40? “Earlier in the season, he had an 83-yard run, and I gave it to him the next three plays, and we got a touchdown,” Reich said. “The coaches wondered about that, and I said, ‘If he was tired, he’d come out.’ “
The clock bled down to :03, :02, with Taylor a single back behind Wentz.
“Gotta go! Gotta go!” Wentz yelled, and the ball was snapped at :01.
From the 10, Wentz handed it to Taylor. At the 9, Taylor juked to the right of corner Levi Wallace, who went flying to the wet turf. Close to the goal line, there was safety Micah Hyde waiting for him. “That’s when you really have to dig deep,” Taylor told me from the locker room post-game. “When a play is perfectly designed, you usually have one man to beat. Here there was a second guy. So you have to fall back on the work you’ve put in, the study of that team during the week.”
Hyde’s a good safety, and here he was, waiting to end Taylor’s dance around the 3-yard line. Taylor whacked him in the helmet with the base of his right palm, a forceful stiff-arm, and Hyde went flying too, and Taylor juked to the left and scored.
Jonathan Taylor has four touchdowns. He is very good. pic.twitter.com/OLxkojVrBW
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 21, 2021
Such a forceful, confident run, with a make-‘em-miss touch of Barry Sanders.
“We’re watching it,” Reich said, “and the whole sideline is saying, “Wow! How’d that happen!’ “
It happened because Taylor is as strong as he is shifty, as athletic as he is physical. The Colts are 6-5 this morning because of Taylor’s five-TD day in Buffalo, and because he has a coach willing to ride the hot hand, no matter how different the game is. Jonathan Taylor is the best back not named Derrick Henry in football, and because Henry is likely out for the rest of the regular season at least, Taylor owns the title. He is the best running back playing.
I have more tales to tell about the NFL’s newest very big hero, and, well, I want to tell you one now, before I get to the 10 Things I Love About This Week in Football.
Indy GM Chris Ballard went to Wisconsin. He has a soft spot for Badgers. And when the 2020 draft came along, and Ballard thought he needed a franchise back, he and his scouting staff got fixated on the 5-10, 226-pound Taylor, who averaged 151 rushing yards in 41 games at Wisconsin—after, amazingly, bypassing a strong pitch from Harvard to play and study there. (Taylor was tempted.) Early in the second round of the draft, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and D’Andre Swift gone and the Colts still seven or eight picks away from the spot they thought they’d take Taylor, 44th overall, owner Jimmy Irsay piped up.
“Uh, Chris,” Irsay, “you’ve been talking about this guy Jonathan Taylor all spring. Don’t you think you ought to go get him?”
Ballard obliged. He got on the phone, not really worried that Taylor would get plucked before 44, but understanding that a team that might love him could swoop in with a trade to get him. So he dealt his fifth-rounder to the Browns to move from 44 to 41 to pick Taylor. And everyone in the draft room, he said, exhaled.
“I’ve worked four drafts with Chris now, since 2018,” Reich told me. “And I don’t think there’s ever been a player he liked more than Jonathan Taylor.”
Okay. More Colts in a moment. But now . . .
10 Things I Love About This Week in Football
1. Houston 22, Tennessee 13. The top seed in the AFC, Tennessee, on six-game winning streak, got outplayed and out-turnovered by the the worst team in the AFC, Houston, on an eight-game losing streak. In Nashville.
2. The Patriots had a wonderful day, sitting on their couches. New England shut out Atlanta on Thursday night and had a nice Sunday, presumably. Doing nothing, they moved into first place in the AFC East. In the last five games, they’re 5-0 and have outscored foes, on average, 35-10. The Bills are 2-3 in their last five. So New England has a half-game lead on the Bills—this was supposed to be Buffalo’s time—with two December games against the Patriots set to determine a division we all thought was Buffalo’s. All of us except Bill Belichick.
3. Imagine the Bills having zero home-field edge in January. Buffalo’s the seventh seed right now, and to get to the Super Bowl, the Bills would have a road death march (at Baltimore, at Tennessee, at New England, perhaps?) to make the Super Bowl their fans were sure was in their grasp.
4. Sunday night incredulity. The Chargers led 27-10 with 15 minutes left Sunday night in what sounded like a Steeler home game. (Steeler Nation travels, even to L.A.) In the next 12 minutes, Pittsburgh scored 27 points to take a 37-34 lead. The Steelers had all the momentum. But Justin Herbert doesn’t know about no stinkin’ momentum. His 53-yard TD strike to Mike Williams won it with 2:09 to play. The Steelers have a tough playoff road: They’re the eighth seed right now, and they don’t play a team with a losing record in the last seven games of the season.
5. Colt McCoy’s a big-time winner. We’re a couple of weeks away from the 10-year anniversary of one of the most vicious hits in NFL history—James Harrison’s helmet to McCoy’s facemask, at full speed, on a Thursday night in 2011. From then to this season, McCoy drifted from San Francisco to Washington to the Giants, starting only nine games in nine seasons. This year, with Kyler Murray missing three games due to injury on the team with the best record in football, McCoy has been excellent. He’s 2-1, including road wins at the Niners and the Seahawks in the NFC West, completing 81 percent in those two games. “I feel like I’m the best player I’ve ever been,” the 35-year-old McCoy said Sunday night. “I’m just so happy right now.”
6. Could this be the end for the Packers’ QB dominance at their arch-rivals? The Packers and Vikings have been playing each other for the past 61 years. For 30 of those, including Sunday’s 34-31 Vikings win, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers has played quarterback for Green Bay. Now, no one knows if Sunday’s game in Minnesota would be Rodgers’ last; he could force a trade after this season. Imagine you’re 35 years old, a Vikings fan, and you’ve followed them for the last three decades. You know what it’s like for the Lions or Bears to have a bad quarterback, because that’s almost all they’ve had. You have no idea what it’s like to have the Packers come to town with a bad QB. What a streak.
7. Drama in Cleveland. Baker Mayfield is mad at the world, and he’d better snap out of it after a 13-10 win over the winless Lions and mighty Tim Boyle. Next three weekends: at Baltimore, bye, Baltimore at home.
8. Tyler Huntley is a boldface name. With Lamar Jackson sidelined with an illness that had him curled…