INDIANAPOLIS – The Rams drafted Tavon Austin to be their game-changer.
He's finally starting to play like it.
On Sunday, Austin accounted for 310 combined yards returning and receiving, scored three touchdowns and led the reeling Rams to a stunning 38-8 victory at Indianapolis. It was the Colts' worst home loss in two decades.
"I know I have a big role on this team, as far as special teams," Austin said. "Right now I'm just waiting for opportunities and trying to keep making plays."
He's likely to start seeing the ball a lot more after turning the Colts game tape into his own personal highlight reel.
The rookie receiver raced right past Vontae Davis for a 57-yard score in the first half and cut right through the Colts defense for an 81-yard TD catch in the second half. Those were his only two catches of the day, giving him 138 yards and matching the two TD catches he had in St. Louis' first nine games.
But the turning point came on one of the strangest plays of the season — as Austin duped the Colts into positioning themselves to down a punt inside the Rams' 5-yard line and then grabbing the bouncing ball at his own 2. The Colts (6-3) were caught napping and Austin made them pay with 98-yard sprint down the sideline to give the Rams a 21-0 lead.
The Rams were not surprised.
"He has the chance to change games," Fisher said. "We're just going to keep working to get him the football."
Austin now has two weeks to tune up for Chicago.
Here are five other things we learned from Sunday's game.
LIFE WITHOUT REGGIE: No quarterback in the league may miss his favorite receiver more than Andrew Luck. Yes, Luck finished with good numbers 29 of 47 for 353 yards, though most of that production came after the Colts trailed 38-0. Luck also was sacked three times and picked off three times. The bigger concern is that Indy's offense has struggled terribly in their first two games without Reggie Wayne — and that has to be fixed.
PRESSURE PACKED: If anyone doubted St. Louis' pass rush, they shouldn't now. Luck was under constant duress Sunday, and even when he tried to scramble out of harm's way, the Rams' inside pass rushers didn't let him escape. The result: Indy rushed just 14 times for 18 yards, and Luck who routinely seems to make something out of nothing, managed four carries for 17 yards.
COMEBACK KING: Luck has been terrific in the clutch, leading 10 fourth-quarter comebacks in his first 25 NFL games. But the Colts would prefer to not need his fourth-quarter magic and that means they must do more early. Luck was sacked and stripped of the ball on the sixth play of the game, a turnover Chris Long returned 45 yards for a TD. The defense and special teams gave up four more touchdowns over the next 28½ minutes, digging themselves into a 35-0 deficit that even the masterful Luck couldn't recover from. It's time to end the slow starts.
NEVER GIVE UP: Yes, the Rams fate seemed doomed when they lost quarterback Sam Bradford with a season-ending knee injury and then lost three straight games. But even in the rugged NFC West, the Rams believe they can still reach the playoffs — and if Austin continues to play this way, they might. Bradford's replacement, Kellen Clemens, went 9 of 16 for 247 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. The scoring passes to Austin were the two longest completions of Clemens' eight-year NFL career.
PERSPECTIVE: While there were plenty of boos inside Lucas Oil Stadium, and rightly so, Colts fans saved their loudest ovation for something more meaningful — the return of an American soldier from Afghanistan. Fans overwhelmingly cheered when Army First Sergeant Jeremy Inocencio hugged his wife and children in the most poignant moment of the day.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org