ATLANTA (AP) — Taylor Heinicke provided the turnover-free leadership at quarterback Atlanta has sought all season, passing for 229 yards and a touchdown to lead the Falcons to a 29-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
The Falcons (7-8) benched Desmond Ridder this week for the second time this season following two straight losses, providing an opportunity for Heinicke to boost the team’s fading playoff hopes.
Heinicke delivered, completing 23 of 33 passes, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts. Tyler Allgeier added a 31-yard touchdown run. The Falcons’ 29 points set a season high.
The Colts (8-7) had won five of six to move into a first-place tie in the AFC South but struggled offensively after opening the game with a long drive capped by Jonathan Taylor’s 1-yard scoring run.
Gardner Minshew faced frequent pressure from the Falcons’ pass rush, including on an incomplete fourth-down pass from the Atlanta 38 with about 10 minutes remaining.
The Colts’ next drive ended with Jessie Bates’ interception of Minshew’s pass over the middle intended for Alex Pierce. It was Bates’ sixth interception of the season.
The Falcons’ finish will determine the future of third-year coach Arthur Smith. Team owner Arthur Blank said this week he would wait until after the regular season to make a decision on Smith’s status.
For the second time this season, Smith shaved his moustache before the game, perhaps hoping to change his team’s luck following back-to-back losses to NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina. Last weekend’s 9-7 loss to last-place Carolina knocked Atlanta out of a first-place tie in the division.
The Falcons’ fading hopes in the division were helped by New Orleans’ 30-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday.
With running back Bijan Robinson lined up wide left as a receiver, Allgeier scored on the long run around right end to give the Falcons a 20-7 lead to open the second half.
Robinson, a rookie, had 12 carries for 72 yards and a career-high seven catches for 50 yards.
Atlanta’s defense gave up its first touchdown on an opening drive of the season. Taylor needed three runs from the Atlanta 1 before scoring.
Taylor made his return from a Week 12 thumb injury against Tampa Bay. It also was the first rushing touchdown the Falcons have given up to a running back this season.
The Falcons’ defense shut out the Colts the remainder of the first half. Rookie Zach Harrison recorded a sack for the second straight week. Calais Campbell and Arnold Ebiketie shared a sack on the following play late in the opening quarter.
The Falcons recorded six sacks, including 1 1/2 by Campbell.
Younghoe Koo kicked five field goals. With the scored tied at 7-all, Koo had a 49-yard attempt hit the right upright in the second quarter, but an offsides penalty against the Colts led to a 23-yarder by Koo for the lead.
Colts: WR Michael Pittman (concussion, shoulder) and RB Zack Moss (forearm) did not play. Pittman was cleared from the concussion protocol on Friday and traveled with the team to Atlanta before being ruled out Saturday after again experiencing more symptoms. ... SS Julian Blackmon left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.
Falcons: LB Lorenzo Carter (neck, head) cleared concussion protocol after leaving the game in the third quarter. RG Chris Lindstrom also cleared the concussion protocol in the fourth quarter. ... LB Arnold Ebiketie was listed as questionable to return with a knee injury late in the game.
Colts: Close the regular season with two home games, including next Sunday’s visit from the Las Vegas Raiders.
Falcons: Visit Chicago next Sunday in the first of two road games to close the regular season, followed by a visit to New Orleans.