ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Coach Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts discovered an easy fix to their problems holding fourth-quarter leads: Keep feeding Jonathan Taylor the ball.
The second-year running back set a franchise record by scoring five times, and took over the NFL lead in both yards rushing and touchdowns, in a 41-15 rout of the unraveling Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
“When J.T. turns on the jets, he’s gone,” tight end Mo Alie-Cox said of Taylor, who scored on runs of 1, 2, 3 and 10 yards and a 23-yard reception. “Like the one play at the goal line, I’m blocking and I just turn my head and I just see him flying through the air like a superhero.”
All that was missing was a cape for Taylor, who scored three times in the first half as Indy built a 24-7 lead and finished with a season-best 185 yards rushing.
The Colts (6-5) have won five of six to get back into the AFC playoff race. Taylor helped ease the concerns of a team that had squandered three fourth-quarter leads this season.
“It meant a lot. I mean, that’s something that we’re going to have to do if we want to get to where we want to go at the end of the year,” Taylor said. “We’re going to have to be able to put games away in the fourth quarter, we’re going to have to put points up.”
Taylor became the NFL’s first player to score five TDs in one game since New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara had six TDs rushing in a 52-33 win over Minnesota last Christmas Day, and the first to do so against Buffalo.
The Bills (6-4) ceded their lead atop the AFC East, falling a half-game behind — guess who? — New England, which Buffalo will play twice over the next five weeks. Buffalo has dropped three of five, and hasn’t won consecutive games since a 4-0 run ended with a 34-31 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 18.
Buffalo was undone by four turnovers, the first three leading to Colts touchdowns.
“We’re really good football team when we don’t bite ourselves in the butt. What we put on the field today is not who we are,” said Josh Allen, who threw two touchdown passes, both to Stefon Diggs, and two interceptions. “We need to do a better job on all fronts. There’s no way around it, but at the same time, it’s not panic mode.”
If not now, then perhaps soon. Buffalo has a short week before traveling to play New Orleans on Thursday night.
Buffalo was flat from the beginning on Sunday. After limiting opponents to two field goals in the first quarter through their first nine games, the Bills gave up two touchdowns to Taylor in the first 13:22.
The bottom then fell out in the second quarter after Michael Badgley capped a 15-play, 58-yard drive with a 36-yard field goal to put the Colts up 17-7 with 2:12 left before halftime. Isaiah McKenzie fielded the ensuing kickoff and lost the ball untouched while stumbling to the turf at Buffalo’s 13. Taylor scored on the next play by diving over a pile.
The win was emotional for Reich, who has plenty of memories — good and bad — at Buffalo.
Last season ended for the Colts with a 27-24 loss to the Bills in a wild-card playoff game. Indy’s 41 points on Sunday matched the Bills’ total in a 41-38 wild-card win over the Houston Oilers 29 years ago — with Reich at quarterback leading a rally from a 32-point deficit, the biggest comeback in NFL history.
“What’s the right word, serendipitous or whatever?” Reich said. “Every player, every coach has certain games that mean a little more to them. This one meant a little more to me.”
RUNNING UP THE RANKINGS
Taylor has 1,122 yards rushing this season after beginning the day tied for the league lead with the injured Derrick Henry of Tennessee. He upped his TD total to 14, moving ahead of Arizona’s James Conner, who began the day with 12.
Taylor topped 100 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown for the eighth consecutive game, matching the NFL record set by Lydell Mitchell of the Colts in the 1975-76 seasons and matched by the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
Allen finished 21 of 35 for 200 yards. … Allen’s record dropped to 17-17, including 0-2 in the postseason, in games when he has committed a turnover. … The Colts extended their run of games with a takeaway to 12, which began the week tied with the New York Giants for the NFL’s longest active streak. … With Bills backup Mitchell Trubisky also throwing an interception, Indianapolis improved its turnover differential to plus-15 and took over the NFL lead from Buffalo, which failed to force a takeaway and had its differential drop to plus-10. … Bills K Tyler Bass missed both field-goal attempts. He hit the right upright from 57 yards to close the first half and was wide left on a 49-yard attempt.
Colts: Host the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday.
Bills: At New Orleans on Thursday night.
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