INDIANAPOLIS — We keep getting pulled back to that late January 2017 press conference.
The Indianapolis Colts were in transition mode, and Chris Ballard was their new general manager, their new leader.
A philosophical bullet quote that’s stuck with us:
“Everyone will have to understand that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves and that every decision we make will be in the best interest of the horseshoe,’’ Ballard said.
It will never be about one person. It will take all of us to come together as one.
That point never has been driven home with more authority than Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Colts 23, Tennessee Titans 17.
The Colts snapped a seven-game losing streak at Lucas Oil Stadium and a four-game losing streak at home to Tennessee, and maintained a share of the AFC South lead at 3-2 with Jacksonville with two of their offensive cornerstones either knocked from the game or on limited duty.
Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson was unable to finish his third of four starts — he missed another with a concussion — after injuring his right shoulder when he was taken down by 252-pound linebacker Harold Landry on a designed QB run in the second quarter.
X-rays were negative, but the team believes Richardson has a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. An MRI might give an indication as to how much time he’ll miss.
Then, all-world running back Jonathan Taylor was on a pitch count in his first game since Dec. 17, 2022. He finished the contest with six rushes for 18 yards and one catch for 16.
It will never be about one person.
Sunday was about nearly everyone else.
*Zack Moss: a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, and 30 additional yards on two receptions. His 56-yard burst in the first quarter between the sealing blocks of center Ryan Kelly and left guard Quenton Nelson — “I’ve got speed,’’ he said with smile — gave the Colts a 7-3 lead and set the tone for a punishing afternoon by the run game.
“Shoot, he ran hard,’’ Colts coach Shane Steichen said. “What did he have today, 165? I mean, he ran hard.’’
*Gardner Minshew II: 11-of-14 for 155 yards and three second-half scoring drives after the Colts eased into a 10-3 halftime lead — Moss’ 3-yard run and 35 and 28-yard field goals by Matt Gay. With the game hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter, Minshew directed a 14-play, 84-yard drive that drained seven minutes and three seconds off the clock.
The Titans trailed by seven after Gay’s 28-yarder and only had one minute to work with.
*Zaire Franklin: a fifth-straight double-digit tackle game (12), and none bigger than standing up Derrick Henry — with help from tackle DeForest Buckner — on fourth-and-1 at the Indy 5 with 8:03 remaining and the Colts protecting a 20-16 lead.
*Gay: with three field goals in a game where points were going to be a premium.
*Josh Downs: the rookie slot receiver pestered the Titans with six catches for a career-high 97 yards. A 38-yard reception converted a third-and-16 while a 25-yarder moved the chains on third-and-5.
*The offensive line: the Titans came in with a run defense ranked No. 4 in fewest yards allowed per game (70) and No. 1 in yards per attempt (2.9). Did we mention Moss’ 165? The Colts finished with 193 and averaged 5.7 on 34 attempts.
The Titans hadn’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards in 10 consecutive games and hadn’t yielded a 100-yard game to a back in 20 straight.
*Julian Blackmon: the veteran safety ended things with a sideline interception of Ryan Tannehill with 10 seconds remaining.
*The defensive front: Henry had piled up at least 100 yards in six of his last shots at the Colts. On Sunday, he gained 43 yards 13 carries. That’s his least effective outing against Indy since he became the Titans’ workhorse in 2017. The Titans were just 1-of-4 in the red zone.
It will never be about one person.
Steichen said that and more after emerging from what Minshew described as a “lit’’ locker room.
“I told the guys . . . at some point, someone is going to have to make a big-time play in this game,’’ Steichen said. “It’s going to be four quarters, going to be a four-quarter battle, and that’s what that game was.
“Had the 15-play drive there. Would have loved to finish it obviously getting the first down right there, but then Julian Blackmon finishing the game off with the interception. It was big time.’’
The Colts have dealt with one adversity after another through five games: a rookie quarterback who’s having a difficult time staying healthy (bruised left knee, sore ankle, concussion, now a sprained AC joint); concussions that sidelined left tackle Bernhard Raimann and center Ryan Kelly; consecutive overtime games against Baltimore (a win) and the Rams (a loss).
And now Sunday.
“I think it builds character of your football team,’’ Steichen said. “You find out who you are, the resiliency. We talked about that in Baltimore. Even last week against the Rams being down 23, coming back, then finding a way to finish these games, which is huge.
“Again, I go back to somebody has got to make a play, and we get that fourth-down stop (and) we go on a 15-play drive to bleed all that clock out and leave them, whatever, a minute left with no timeouts. It says a lot about this football team.’’
Moss hasn’t flinched while everyone waited for Taylor’s return, which came one day after he signed a three-year, $42 million contract extension.
He’s been the heart and soul of the offense with a team-high 445 yards and three TDs in four games. His last eight games: 158 carries, 779 yards (4.9).
“Zack’s running his tail off, man,’’ Minshew said. “Man, Zack’s been tough. He’s been toting the mail for us.
“A lot of carries, a lot of yards. I’m really proud of him.’’
Moss’ 56-yard touchdown gave the Colts a 7-3 lead while his 3-yarder pushed them in front 17-13 midway through the third quarter. On the 15-play journey that ended with Gay’s 28-yard field goal and shoved the Titans in a 23-17 hole with only 1 minute remaining, he had nine carries for 37 yards.
Why the career game at an opportune time?
“The offensive line just dominating and giving me great space,’’ Moss said. “As I get into a rhythm and a flow and things like that, I start to see different things and start to capitalize on those things.
“I’ve always been the type of player that, the more I get going, the more I feel like I can do. Coaches are just putting me in a great position and can’t do any of this without the guys up front.’’
Kelly, who returned after missing two games with a concussion, had a great view of Moss’ 56-yard TD.
“I was like, ‘Please don’t get caught, this is going to be so sweet’,’’ he said.
“And he didn’t.’’
The game-turning defensive play was turned in by Franklin.
His post on social media spoke volumes: King Slayer.
With 8 minutes remaining and the Colts protecting a 20-16 lead, the Titans drove for a fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 5-yard line. They put the football in the hands of Henry — dubbed King Henry — and he looked for a seam on the right side. Buckner got immediate penetration and Franklin met Henry on the Titans’ side of the line of scrimmage.
“That was huge,’’ Steichen said.
As was the entire afternoon.
Instead of falling to 2-3 and tying an Indy record with an eighth-straight home loss, the Colts put themselves in position to do something.
“It’s huge,’’ Steichen said. “Division game, all games are big, but (if) you want to win championships, you’ve got to win division games. To get the division win at home against Tennessee was huge, and we’ve got to keep going.
“Obviously we’ve got Jacksonville next week.’’
The manner with which the Colts turned back the Titans can’t be ignored. They were the more physical team against a Mike Vrabel team that has pushed Indy around.
“We’re a tough team, too,’’ Kelly argued. “Everyone knows, every single Sunday — the front seven — if you win up front, you can win the game. This team didn’t ever keep their foot off the gas the entire day.
“It was a lot of fun. We always say, ‘Five o’clock on a home game after a win is the best time of the year.’ It’s true.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.