Indianapolis Colts tight end Moe Alie-Cox discusses building chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts quarterback Phillip Rivers spent his entire San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers career throwing to a big-bodied, former basketball-playing tight end in Antonio Gates.
The duo connected for 89 touchdowns during their time as Chargers, second only to the 112 touchdowns between Colts legends Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
Comparing current Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox to Gates is a stretch, but the 6-5, 267-pound former rebounding machine from Virginia Commonwealth has the impressive combination size, strength and gigantic hands to quickly become a favorite target of his new QB.
Mo Alie-Cox (81) of the Indianapolis Colts grabs a crucial pass against two defenders to set up a fourth quarter touchdown a play later, Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts, about an hour before kickoff, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. The game is being played under coronavirus restrictions, and 2,500 fans are allowed inside for the event. Colts won 28-11 to go 1-1 on the season. (Photo: Robert_Scheer_IndyStar)
With starting tight end Jack Doyle out with a knee/ankle injury, Alie-Cox made the most of his opportunity as TE1. The third-year pro showed great chemistry with Rivers, leading the Colts with five catches for 111 yards in their 28-11 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
“I’ve just tried to follow Jack’s lead every day and up to this point, he’s helped me a lot to be ready for a situation like this,” Alie-Cox said. “He went down and it was just next man up. Over the years I’ve just gotten accustomed to just following his lead and now I got the opportunity today and I just try to make the most of it.”
Alie-Cox’s career day came after an inauspicious start.
After a methodical 15-play drive on Indy’s opening possession, Rivers had his eyes set on the big tight end inside the red zone. At the Minnesota 11, Alie-Cox lined up in the slot to Rivers’ right and ran a slant to the middle of the field. Rivers fired a pass to Alie-Cox as he made his break. But Vikings safety Harrison Smith made a play on the ball right as it hit Alie-Cox in chest, jarring the ball loose and into the hands of Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson for the interception.
Whether you score the play as a drop or a great play by Smith and Wilson, Rivers said the interception did not effect his confidence in Alie-Cox to make plays moving forward.
“I didn’t see that as just a flat out drop by any means, it was certainly a contested play and then Mo had a heck of a day so those kind of plays are part of this game,” Rivers said. “It’s just a matter of continuing to believe and minimize the negative ones and take advantage of all our opportunities when we get them.”
Having a sure-handed security blanket of a tight end is paramount, especially with slot receiver Paris Campbell suffering what looks like a serious injury.
Alie-Cox said he didn’t approach his role as the starting tight end differently than when he’s playing behind Doyle or Eric Ebron, last season. He said he makes the most of his reps during practice and is willing to do whatever the team needs. Normally known for his blocking, Alie-Cox’s improved receiving ability helped the Colts seal the win in the fourth quarter.
On first-and-20 from the Minnesota 29, Rivers threw Alie-Cox a jump ball on a corner route. Like a power forward going up for a rebound, Alie-Cox skied with two defenders blanketing him, high-pointing the ball and securing the catch for a 27-yard reception. Rivers threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pascal on the Colts’ next play.
Colts coach Frank Reich credited general manager Chris Ballard for unearthing a raw but physically talented player like Alie-Cox three seasons ago. It was Ballard who thought Allie-Cox could follow along the likes of a Gates or a Tony Gonzalez and make the transition from the hardwood as a three-year starter at Virginia Commonwealth to the gridiron.
Like any athlete learning a new sport, Alie-Cox’s growth has been gradual. He had just 15 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns his first two seasons with the Colts.
His one-handed touchdown catch against the Raiders in 2018 remains one of the most jaw-dropping feats of athleticism shown on a football field, but the man with the biggest hands in the NFL has worked to become more than just a one-trick pony, quickly earning the trust of his quarterback.
“Really the credit is to Mo. He works so hard, it’s so important to him,” Reich said. “He’s physically and mentally tough, and he just continued to get better. It was obvious this week with Jack down, that being a big blow, Phillip let me and (offensive coordinator) Nick (Sirianni) know right away how much confidence he has in Mo.
“Phillip likes throwing to those big targets. He’s used to throwing to receivers, but you can see how quickly he got used a Mo, just throwing it to that big target. What else can you say Mo’s a big man and a truly great competitor.