CARSON, Calif. -- The 63-yard touchdown run by Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack was just one of many things he did well on his career-best rushing game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
To really see how much the Colts value Mack, all you had to do is look at their final offensive snap in their overtime loss.
Trailing by two, 38 seconds on the clock, ball on the Chargers’ 2-yard line for a two-point conversion. Score and there’s a good chance the game goes into overtime. Fail and game over. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had been proficient all game, so it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Colts had called a pass play.
Mack took the handoff and he forced his way up the middle and across the goal line.
“That’s a pass all day for a lot of teams,” Colts tight end Eric Ebron said. “But Marlon deserved to get the ball. They couldn’t stop him. Put your money on Marlon.”
For most of this decade, the question has been: When will Colts finally find an established running back?
Frank Gore wanted to be that guy, but the Colts had a patchwork offensive line and quarterback Andrew Luck was often injured during Gore's three seasons with the franchise.
Luck is gone, but the Colts finally have an established line and if he's healthy, there’s no question Mack is going to continue to thrive as the workhorse running behind that group.
The 174 yards by Mack is the ninth-highest single-game total in Colts franchise history and the most since Dominic Rhodes rushed for 177 yards against Atlanta during the 2001 season. Mack has topped 100 yards rushing five times in his career, with all five coming since last season, when the Colts had their significant improvement on the offensive line.
“That’s something as an O-line group that we take pride in and making sure that we execute blocks and running the scheme effectively,” Colts right guard Mark Glowinski said. “It’s a mentality we found last year and we wanted to see more of. If they call a run play, no one is disappointed at all. We want that play because it’s a chance for us to push our men back and move the ball down the field.”
About the only thing stopping Mack from being a 1,000-yard rusher and the Colts from being a top-five rushing team is his health. He rushed for 908 yards last season despite missing four games. But health hasn’t been a question so far this season, as he didn't miss any time during training camp to injuries.
“That definitely helps when you’re able to get in all the necessary reps in practice and not spend time watching from the sideline,” Mack said.
Mack started slowly Sunday, rushing for only three yards on four carries in the first quarter and just 21 yards on eight attempts in the first half. But the Colts, despite trailing by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, then made a commitment to the running game. Highlighted by his 63-yard touchdown run, Mack rushed for 124 yards alone in the third quarter.
“The key is just being patient," Reich said. "They knew we wanted to run the ball; they were crowding the box. So we just said, 'Hey, we're going to be patient with the run game.' Even when we got behind. I think that helped us out to get us back in it."
Colts guard Quenton Nelson wore a hat in the offseason that said “Run the damn ball” on it. He doesn’t have to worry about that these days, with Mack leading the way and able to assist Brissett and the passing game.
Next up is a Tennessee Titans team that gave up only 102 rushing yards in a victory over Cleveland on Sunday.
“What we saw out of Marlon should be on a regular,” Ebron said. “Marlon is definitely built that way. I think he really grasps it. He fully has the concepts. He’s fully healthy. You watch him, the paths that he runs, where he receives the ball. Everything he does is always good. It’s great for him and the O-line to get the recognition like this.”