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Philadelphia

Colts hope to change perception after beating Redskins

Sports Xchange
17 Sep 2018, 13:21 GMT+10

As if an exciting, new offense and sensible play calling weren't enough of an indication that Frank Reich has smarts, the Indianapolis Colts? first-year head coach is mindful of perception, too.

When the Colts led 14-3 at halftime of Sunday's game at Washington, the deja vu was undeniable. These guys in blue have blown eight of 10 leads at intermission since the start of last season.

"I think there's probably a moment in there, some people are saying, 'Here we go again, when the third quarter starts,'" Reich said after the Colts stunningly stout 21-9 triumph over the Redskins at FedExField in Landover, Md.

"That thought probably went through everybody's mind. That's fair, until we prove otherwise. Today was step one to proving otherwise that we are going to finish."

Nobody could blame fans and media for wondering when humbling reality was going to set in, especially after the Colts blew a 13-point, third-quarter lead in a 34-23 opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at home.

But a young Colts defense led by rookie linebacker Darius Leonard delivered a stunning performance. Not since 2014 had the Colts limited an opponent to single digits. Not since 2016 had a Colts opponent failed to score a touchdown.

A week after the second-round pick debuted with a team-high nine tackles, Leonard doubled that, 15 of them solos. He also had one sack, one forced fumble and one pass breakup.

Reich's offense, which is designed to let quarterback Andrew Luck just play more by executing quick-hit, short-range passes, seized control from the outset. The Colts drove 65 yards in 11 plays, the last a Luck 7-yard TD pass to tight end Eric Ebron.

It's the second consecutive week Ebron has caught a touchdown pass for his new team. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton helped put this game away with his second score in as many games on a crossing route that crossed up the Redskins defense and saw the Pro Bowl receiver wide open for a 3-yard TD catch with 7:32 remaining.

In between, it was mostly stingy Colts defense aside from rookie running back Nyheim Hines making two guys miss to score his first NFL touchdown on a determined 8-yard rush in the second quarter.

Yeah, you didn't expect to say that about the defense. But that's the NFL for you. Whatever you're feeling outside of Cleveland and maybe Buffalo these days is not for long.

Just when it seems obvious that the Colts are bound to struggle early on this season, considering the schedule after the opener had them on the road for five of seven games, they rebound to inspire and give fans hope.

By the end, a guy many had never heard of even made a play. Defensive tackle Jihad Ward provided the team's third sack and another by Margus Hunt was negated by penalty.

Jihad who?

Ward was signed to the practice squad two days after he was among final cuts in Dallas, then promoted to the active roster three days ago.

It was that kind of day.

Leonard celebrated his first NFL sack. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard also got one, too, and was a constant pocket presence. Safety Clayton Geathers had 11 tackles.

No, the Colts wouldn't blow this lead. As Reich suggested, they instead altered the perception that this team had just too many holes to avoid starting 0-2 for a fifth consecutive year.

Consider that the Redskins, who had a league-best 182 yards rushing in an opening win at Arizona, finished with just 65 yards on 22 carries.

Quarterback Alex Smith completed 33-of-46 passes for 292 yards, but the Colts hounded him throughout and forced a lot of short underneath throws. Not stretching the field consistently allowed swarming Colts tacklers to make stops.

The Colts' offense outrushed their hosts with 104 yards on 28 carries. Rookie running back Jordan Wilkins had a team-best 61 yards on 10 carries.

Not having offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo for a second consecutive week due to a hamstring injury was also a non-issue. Third-year pro Le'Raven Clark made his first start at left tackle and Joe Haeg handled right tackle and neither allowed a sack. Luck was sacked only once.

The Colts quarterback, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, was steady for the most part aside from two interceptions, the latter a bad decision and the first an unlucky deflection.

He completed 21-of-31 passes for 179 yards with the two TDs. A week after Luck connected with nine different receivers, he spread it around to eight guys this time. Reich's offense had some hiccups, including a stretch of four consecutive three-and-out possessions, but it clicked enough. In two games, the Colts have converted 20-of-33 third downs (60.6 percent).

Again, that's most encouraging.

The road ahead is still challenging. The Colts visit Reich's old team, the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, next Sunday. There's also a Thursday night game on Oct. 4 at longtime-nemesis New England.

But if nothing else, this rebuilding team inspired optimism this day. And with it, there's modest assurance that these young Colts are on the right path to be a solid team, one that can finish what it starts.

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