The Indianapolis Colts gave themselves a late Christmas present in the form of their ninth win of the season as they were able to head into Arizona and defeat the Cardinals, 22-16.
These playoff hopefuls were tightly knotted throughout the bulk of this game until midway through the fourth quarter. That was when Indy was able to drive 69-yards down the field and build upon its two-point lead with Carson Wentz completing a 14-yard touchdown to Dezmon Patmon. That opened the contest wide open as the Colts jumped up by two scores and Frank Reich's team was able to remain in control for the rest of regulation.
It was an overall choppy day for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals as poor execution on special teams and penalties consistently had them moving uphill. Prior to that back-breaking touchdown drive by the Colts, Matt Prater missed a 41-yard field goal that would have given Arizona the lead. On the day, Prater missed two field-goal attempts and a PAT as his typical holder, punter Andy Lee, was unable to play in this game as he landed on the COVID-19 list.
Meanwhile, Murray finished with 245 yards passing and a touchdown. He also rushed for 74 yards, which included a 57-yard dash. On the Colts side, Wentz completed 18 of his 28 throws for 225 yards and two scores. Jonathan Taylor carried the ball 27 times and totaled 108 yards on the ground.
Indy also played the role of spoiler with this win as they denied Arizona's ability to clinch a playoff berth with a win and prevent the Tennessee Titans -- who defeated the 49ers on Thursday -- from securing the AFC South.
Why the Colts won
The Colts were simply able to capitalize on a number of mistakes made by the Cardinals and avoid any crucial mistakes themselves. Following two missed field goals by Arizona, Indy would answer immediately with touchdown drives. They'd also tack on a total of five points courtesy of a safety and a subsequent field goal, which helped keep them above Arizona for most of this game.
While the Cardinals did do a solid job defending the Colts offense for stretches, both Carson Wentz and Jonathan Taylor were able to make plays when the moment required for them to do so. On his first touch of the game, Taylor exploded for a 43-yard run that immediately put Indianapolis in the red zone and eventually go up, 7-0. As for Wentz, there were moments where he was a bit off target, but then made one of his most clutch throws of the season when he connected with Dezmon Patmon on a 14-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter (more on that score below).
Again, this game was pretty even from a statistical production standpoint, but the Colts made fewer mistakes than the Cardinals which proved to be the difference.
Why the Cardinals lost
As has been the case for the last few weeks, the Cardinals look off-kilter. The kicking game was an issue from the jump as punter Andy Lee, who ordinarily serves as the holder, was held out due to COVID-19 protocols. His absence was apparent on the opening drive as Prater missed a 51-yard field goal and later missed on a PAT following Arizona's first touchdown of the evening. However, the Cardinals issues in this game stretched beyond the kicking game.
Penalties were continuously keeping Kliff Kingsbury's team from taking a commanding lead. In all, the Cardinals were called for 11 penalties that cost them 85 yards. In the first half, a false start penalty turned what was set to be a fourth-and-1 attempt by the offense at the Indy 29 into a much more difficult try. That changed the play-call completely and while Zach Ertz made an impressive effort trying to make the reception, Kyler Murray's pass fell incomplete, which turned the ball over on downs. Another situation where penalties kept shooting Arizona in the foot came on the ensuing defensive possession. An illegal contact penalty on Byron Murphy erased a strip-sack by Chandler Jones that would have given the Cardinals the ball already in Colts territory.
Later on in the second quarter, a botched snap had the ball bouncing into the end zone before Murray picked it and threw it out of bounds. The quarterback was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety.
Not exactly a winning formula.
There were plenty of missed opportunities by the Cardinals in this loss and special teams were an issue throughout. However, Matt Prater's missed field goal from 41-yards out at the 11:12 mark of the fourth quarter and the events that followed did prove to be the moment where Indy began pulling away.
Following that miss, the Colts gained possession on their own 31-yard line and proceeded to move 69 yards down the field to eventually score a touchdown. Wentz made arguably his best throw of the game on the touchdown reception to Dezmon Patmon. The Colts quarterback was rolling out to his left, and made an off-balance throw to the back of the end zone with pressure in his face.
Play of the game
Wentz's touchdown throw is naturally worthy of consideration in this space, but since we highlighted that play above, let's take a look at one of the quirkier moments of this game.
As the Colts punted the ball away following the first offensive possession of the second half, the Cardinals punt return unit caught everybody off guard. Receiver Christian Kirk was back deep and drifted to his left to make it seem like he was tracking the football in the air. However, the ball actually was heading towards his right, but was luring Indy's special teams unit towards his side of the field. Then, Byron Murphy actually fielded the kick and had a huge lane down the field where he was able to pick up 48 yards on the return.
That helped spark Arizona's lone touchdown drive of the second half as Kyler Murray was able to connect with Antoine Wesley on a 24-yard score just three plays later.
From here, the Colts will head back to Indianapolis and await the Las Vegas Raiders for a Week 17 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium. As for the Cardinals, they'll look to snap this three-game losing streak when they travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys next week.