INDIANAPOLIS – Jonathan Taylor is not concerned with the shoulder injury that limited him throughout the practice week.
In fact, the Indianapolis Colts’ star rookie running back considers it an inevitable cost from his record-setting game Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Any time you get 30 carries at this level, you’re bound to come out with little nicks and bruises,” Taylor said. “If you don’t, shoot, that – blessings to the man above if you don’t.”
Taylor vows to be ready for Saturday’s AFC wild card showdown against the Buffalo Bills (13-3), and he certainly expects the opposing defense to be ready for him.
On Thursday, Taylor was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month for December/January. In five games during that span, the second-rounder out of Wisconsin rushed for 651 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
Now he’ll make his playoff debut against the league’s hottest team.
The Bills won nine of their final 10 games to wrap up the conference’s No. 2 seed, and they won their final three games by an average of nearly 30 points.
Taylor has picked the brains of veterans like quarterback Philip Rivers and defensive end Justin Houston to get a feel for what to expect on the postseason stage.
“I definitely have been talking to a lot of the veterans to get their opinions and thoughts on kind of the playoff vibes, and they all said the same thing – it’s just another level,” Taylor said. “You have different speeds in this game. You have (offseason workout) speed. You have training camp speed. You have (regular) season speed. But the playoff speed – everyone is taking their game to another level when the playoffs come around.”
Taylor got to another level in the Colts’ 28-14 victory against the Jaguars last week that clinched their second playoff berth in three seasons. His franchise-record 253-yard game included a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that provided the final margin of victory.
It also underscored the need for the passing offense to get back on track. Rivers has averaged just 7.1 yards per attempt the past two weeks – more than a half-yard below his season total – even as defenses have loaded up to stop the run in the second half.
The inability to consistently take advantage through the air played a big role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ comeback victory Dec. 27 and allowed Jacksonville to slice 14 points off a 20-point deficit Sunday.
It’s a safe bet Buffalo noticed and will focus its defensive efforts on shutting down Indianapolis’ red-hot rusher.
“We can just tell the Bills that we are going to throw (a) play-action pass every down while they all gear up on Jonathan,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “I mean, that’s the cat-and-mouse game. That’s the gamesmanship. When you get a good run game going, some of the play-action stuff off of that results in big plays. You guys know this is a very good (Buffalo) defense.
“They are very well coached. They are very disciplined on defense. They are really good in the secondary. They are good front to back, but we have to mix it up.”
For his part, Taylor is excited about the challenge.
Among the many well wishers after his career day against the Jaguars was Hall of Famer Edgerrin James. Taylor joined James and fellow Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as the only rookies in Colts history to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
So Taylor was very receptive to James’ advice.
“One of the biggest things that he mentioned was just to keep pushing forward,” Taylor said. “You know what you did to get to this point, to have the game that you had, have the season that you had, and the only thing that you can do is keep working to get better ’cause it’s only going to get harder from here.”
Indianapolis (11-5) ruled out two players Thursday. Starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (concussion) and reserve offensive tackle Will Holden (ankle) will miss the wild card playoff game.
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (ankle) was a limited participant in practice and is listed as questionable.
“Every game it gets aggravated a little bit, but (I) feel like every week it’s – kind of like Philip’s foot – getting better because trainers are doing a good job, and he’s doing a good job of taking care of it,” Reich said. “We feel like we’re making good progress.”
Buffalo did not rule out any players.
Starting wide receivers Cole Beasley (knee) and Stefon Diggs (oblique) were limited participants and are both listed as questionable.