Jonathan Taylor helps Colts' aspirations to run into the playoffs

For as valuable as Philip Rivers’ right arm is for the Indianapolis Colts, one of their keys to making the playoffs is the quarterback's ability to hand the ball off.

Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, after enduring a midseason slump, is doing his best to ensure the Colts have a ground game during this stretch run of the season.

Taylor rushed for a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts' 44-27 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

For as good as Taylor and the running game was -- and it was dominant -- the biggest development following Sunday’s victory was that the Colts maintained their grasp on the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC and stayed even with Tennessee atop the AFC South with an 9-4 record. The Titans are technically in first place because they have a better division record than Indianapolis.

The Colts couldn’t be stopped on the ground. It started on the opening drive, when they rushed for 42 yards, and it carried over throughout the game. They averaged 6.8 yards per carry and finished with a total of 212 rushing yards.

The veteran Rivers will continue to lead the way for the Colts, but the burden to carry the team won’t be as heavy if they’re able to run the ball as effectively as they did Sunday. Their final three games of the season are at home against Houston, on the road against Pittsburgh and at home against Jacksonville.

That’s why it’s imperative for Taylor to continue to his late-season surge. The second-round pick out of Wisconsin started losing snaps to Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, but he has bounced back by rushing for at least 90 yards in each of the past three games. That production came after Taylor, who replaced the injured Marlon Mack as the starter in Week 2, rushed for 12, 27 and 22 yards in the three games before that.

Taylor had the Colts' longest play from scrimmage this season when he took a handoff to the right, and with the help of blocks from center Ryan Kelly, guard Mark Glowinski and tackle Braden Smith, took off for 62-yard touchdown to extend the Colts’ lead to 27-17 in the second half.

Indianapolis went into Sunday as one of only four teams not to have a play of at least 60 yards from scrimmage this season. Taylor reached 21.4 mph on his touchdown run, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the fastest speed by a Colts player on any run over the past three seasons.

Defense does it again: It started with the type of one-handed interception in the end zone from cornerback Kenny Moore that might make Odell Beckham Jr. jealous and ended with a Khari Willis interception returned for a touchdown.

The Colts' defense, one of the stingiest in the NFL, forced three more turnovers to bring their season total to 22. Moore forced Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow to fumble, which was recovered by Taylor Stallworth in the fourth quarter, and Willis ensured the Raiders wouldn’t be getting back in the game when he returned a Derek Carr interception 50 yards for a touchdown.

The Willis touchdown was the sixth non-offensive touchdown of the season for the Colts. That’s two more than any other team in the league.

Shuffling the deck: Left tackle Anthony Castonzo returned from a one-game absence due to a sprained MCL in his knee.

But then he left the game -- momentarily -- after the first series.

It took only one offensive series for the Colts to realize Chaz Green was not the answer at left tackle, especially after he was called for a false start in the red zone. Colts coach Frank Reich went to another option: Quenton Nelson.

Nelson played left tackle for the first time in at least his NFL career, with Joey Hunt coming in to play left guard. Nelson took only a few snaps at left tackle before Castonzo returned to the game.

The good news is Nelson didn't give up a sack protecting Rivers' blind side. The better news is Castonzo was able to return and finish the game.