Richardson's season-ending injury changed the first-half equation for the resilient Colts

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts were supposed to measure this season's success by Anthony Richardson's development.

Instead, the rookie quarterback's season-ending right shoulder injury changed the equation.

First-time coach Shane Steichen has dealt deftly with a series of unforeseen twists and turns, the most notable being the loss of Richardson in Week 5, to put the Colts within one win of a .500 record and on the cusp of the playoff mix at the halfway mark.

“In this league, there are waves up and down,” Steichen said when the Colts snapped a three-game losing streak with Sunday's 27-13 victory at Carolina. “That’s part of this league. Being consistent is the big process. We’ve got to be consistent week in and week out in all three phases.”

So far, the Colts (4-5) have been riding those waves through troubled waters.

While Richardson, the No. 4 overall draft pick in April, showed tremendous promise in his four starts, injuries allowed him to finish only one game.

His replacement, Gardner Minshew, committed eight turnovers during his first two October starts — both losses. He rebounded the past two weeks, though Bill Belichick and the Patriots (2-7) almost certainly will throw some unique challenges at Minshew next weekend in Frankfurt, Germany.

NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor (ankle) and three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard (back) are just starting to round into pre-injury form following offseason surgery and limited snaps as they eased their way back into action. Taylor's ugly contract dispute was yet another distraction until he signed a three-year, $42 million extension in early October.

And heading into last weekend, Indy's defense had allowed a league worst 28.6 points per game despite leading the NFL in tackles for loss and strip sacks.

Somehow, though, Steichen's resilient Colts seem poised for a second-half run. Only seven AFC teams have more wins than Indy, which hopes to build off the momentum from their latest victory by navigating one of the league's most manageable remaining schedules.

“I think we all understand what we have potentially as a football team," Minshew said Sunday. "I think if we play to our potential, we can be really good.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Scoring. The offense has completely reversed last season's struggles. At 25.8 points per game, the Colts are now No. 7 in the league and 8.8 points ahead of last season — despite losing Richardson. Indy is the only team to score at least 20 points in all nine games.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Defense. Yes, Indy played inspired football against Carolina rookie QB Bryce Young. Kenny Moore II became the first player in franchise history with two pick-6's in one game and the Colts allowed a season-low 13 points. The new goal is proving that's the norm — not an anomaly.

STOCK UP

RB Zack Moss. Nobody has been a more pleasant surprise than Moss, who served as a role player his first three NFL seasons. This year has been a breakout season. In eight games, he already has career bests in carries (132), yards (615) and TD runs (five) despite missing the opener with a broken arm and splitting carries with Taylor since Week 5. Moss remains second in the league in rushing and is likely to cash in with a nice, new contract next season.

STOCK DOWN

TE Mo Alie-Cox. With five tight ends on the active roster and Jelani Woods on injured reserve, Alie-Cox's role has been scaled way back. Yes, the 30-year-old former college basketball star remains a leader in the locker room. But he has only caught five passes for 72 yards and one TD.

INJURIES

It has been a rugged start with Taylor's early absence, Leonard's slow start and Richardson's shoulder surgery. RT Braden Smith (hip, wrist) has missed four games and LB Zaire Franklin (knee), the league's leading tackler (102), sat out Sunday. ... Impressive rookie WR Josh Downs (knee) could miss time after getting hurt Sunday. ... DT Grover Stewart has been sidelined by a six-game suspension.

KEY NUMBER

4 — Indy needed nine games to match last season's victory total.

NEXT STEPS

Aside from Minshew's turnover-prone two-game stretch, the offense has been consistently solid. They will become an even more daunting foe if the ground game becomes a more steady component. But the next big step must come from the defense being able to replicate what it did Sunday.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL