INDIANAPOLIS — There’s something different this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, a unique energy permeating the building.
It’s likely due in part to the Indianapolis Colts coming off their first victory of the season and in part to the excitement of an impending matchup against one of the best teams in the NFL — the Baltimore Ravens. But there’s also something special about playing on “Monday Night Football.”
ESPN’s weekly prime time showcase no longer is the NFL’s grandest regular season stage. “Sunday Night Football” on NBC has long been TV’s highest-rated show and has taken over as the league’s centerpiece broadcast.
But Mondays still hold an element of nostalgia, even for the league’s current generation.
“Every person in the NFL, I’m sure they grew up watching Monday night,” Colts running back Nyheim Hines said. “Shoot, I was in the backyard at halftime running around picturing me doing that when I was a kid. So I think a lot of us in this locker room are like that. So I don’t think it takes any family or friends to hype yourself up. I think this locker room, their childhood hypes them enough.
“So we’re excited to be under there. This is how legends are made, these big games, Monday night games and prime time games.”
Indianapolis (1-3) hasn’t played on Monday night since 2019, and that game was legendary only for the opposition.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees surpassed Peyton Manning’s record for career touchdown passes on the first drive of the second half and set a single-game record by completing 29 of 30 passes (96.7%) in a 34-7 victory.
This time around, the challenge will come from dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson and the red-hot Ravens (3-1). Baltimore is coming off a 23-7 victory against the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos and scored a 36-35 win against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 2.
The latter contest included erasing an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and underscored the success the Ravens have had at M&T Bank Stadium in prime time.
“We’re aware of the fact that Baltimore is 14-1 in their home prime time games,” Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said. “So this is a great opportunity for us to go on the road and show what we can do in prime time. We’ve got all the respect in the world for them — for what their record is in prime time — and it will be a great challenge. It will be a great test to see where we’re at as a team, and I’m excited for it.”
Despite a rash of injuries in the offensive backfield, Baltimore ranks third in the NFL with 658 rushing yards. But the Ravens also have found success through the air this season.
The passing offense ranks 13th with 1,022 yards but is sixth with an average of 7.6 yards per attempt.
The weak spot in Baltimore’s armor has come on the other side of the ball. The run defense ranks seventh after allowing just 343 yards, but the Ravens are 14th with an average of 4.1 yards per carry surrendered — suggesting opponents can run the ball if they’re willing to stick to it.
The pass defense ranks 25th in total yards (1,092) and 16th in yards per attempt (6.6). The question is whether a Colts offense averaging just 5.6 yards per pass attempt and surrendering more than two sacks per game will be able to take advantage.
“I’ve played them a couple of times in my career now,” Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz said. “They’re going to be physical. They’re going to come after the quarterback. You know you’re going to get all that stuff. You’re going to get some different looks, some exotic packages, all sorts of stuff. They’re going to mix up their personnel a lot, play a lot of linebackers, a lot of safeties — kind of keep you on your toes in that regard.
“For us, it’s just about execution — keeping it simple in some respects. Communication is going to be huge for us on the road in a noisy environment and just playing fast and making plays. It’ll be a fun matchup.”
It’s also a potential statement game.
The Colts believe their 0-3 start is not indicative of their potential. The team is getting healthier, and some of the new pieces are beginning to gel together.
Going on the road against a team of Baltimore’s caliber provides a measuring stick for progress and a chance to begin turning this season around.
“The adrenaline’s going a little bit more, especially on a prime time game against a big opponent — a big opponent in the AFC,” Indianapolis defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “This would definitely be a big-time win for us as a team, especially up against one of the better teams in the AFC. So a lot of guys, they’re locked in this week and ready to go.”