Faster pace helps Colts rebound, jump back into playoff hunt

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              Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) celebrates with running back Marlon Mack (25) after securing a win against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Houston. The Colts won 24-21. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Frank Reich learned the value of an up-tempo offense playing in Buffalo.

He figured out how to deploy it more effectively as an assistant coach.

So with the Indianapolis Colts in an offensive funk Sunday, the first-year coach changed gears. He cranked up the tempo, wore down Houston’s defense and watched the Colts rebound from a 5½-quarter scoring drought to earn a critical road victory.

“We know it’s a weapon, we know it’s an effective weapon, especially with the quarterback we have,” Reich said, referring to Andrew Luck.

“To know that we can pull that tool out, that weapon out and use it in the proper way when we need it. I just think it’s really the right way to do it.”

Indy (7-6) desperately needed a switch against the Texans — after their playoff chances took a major hit the previous week when Luck endured the first shutout of his career.

It looked as if the Texans (9-4), winners of nine straight, might do it again when they held the Colts scoreless on their first four possessions. But then Reich threw a change-up that got Luck and his teammates back in sync.

They scored three times in the final 7½ minutes of the first half, matched the Texans’ early second-half score and never trailed again.

The victory allowed Indy to move into a four-way tie with Baltimore, Miami and division rival Tennessee for the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot and gave them some needed momentum heading into back-to-back home games against Dallas and the New York Giants.

The Colts close out the regular season at Tennessee.

And with Luck rolling, the possibility of ending a three-year postseason absence is a real possibility. Indy already has beaten the Titans and Dolphins, potential tiebreakers, even though nobody around the Colts’ complex dare discuss anything other than this weekend’s showdown against the NFC East-leading Cowboys.

“Looking forward to keeping that same mindset and attitude coming back home to Lucas Oil (Stadium) against another hot team in the Dallas Cowboys,” Reich said Monday. “So it will be a good test for us.”

What exactly the Cowboys will see is anybody’s guess.

Luck threw two more touchdown passes in Houston, giving him 34 — second in the league to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (43). T.Y. Hilton caught nine passes for 199 yards, giving the Colts the deep threat they lacked in Jacksonville. Eric Ebron caught another TD pass, his 12th of the season and one more than Dallas Clark’s franchise single-season record for a tight end.

But the lingering question is whether Reich intends to continue relying on the no-huddle offense that kept the Texans’ defense on its heels?

“Believe me, I love the no-huddle, I have done the no-huddle for years as a player and as a coach. Even when I was here before with Peyton (Manning), we did it as well as anyone could do it,” Reich said.

“We did a lot of really good things, but ultimately we just think that the best formula is to be multiple, to use all your personnel and to create some schematic advantages that you can do by huddling.”

The Colts certainly have shown they can exploit mismatches.

Luck has had more success than anyone in the league connecting with tight ends. Ebron is one of five guys to play the position for Indy this season and has produced a career-best season by finally living up to the billing of his first-round pedigree.

Marlon Mack has, at times, given the Colts a solid ground game and Hilton remains a reliable threat in whatever he is asked to do.

While the combination seems perfectly suited to cranking up the tempo as Sunday’s game demonstrated, Reich believes the Colts will be better off employing it at their discretion.

“When you go no-huddle, T.Y. ends up at the same position all the time,” Reich said. “By not being exclusively no-huddle we can move guys around in positions. We can put T.Y. where we want to, we can switch personnel groups, we can put offensive linemen in at tight end to throw deep play-action shots that we put in, to have an extra offensive lineman in to do some stuff in the running game.”