INDIANAPOLIS – After 12 games, the Indianapolis Colts are what they are.
Good enough to generate double-digit leads in nine straight games.
And flawed enough to lose three, all to three teams who are a 24-11 combined, lead their division and head into the playoffs.
This is how we arrive at 6-6. And that’s how frustration mounts among a fan base as playoff hopes fluctuate from week to week.
What could have been?
“I continue to be encouraged by the direction of our team with our players, the confidence we have in our players, our plans and what we are doing,” said Frank Reich on Monday.
“What’s not encouraging is that we played three games against teams in the playoffs, we had a double-digit lead and we weren’t able to close those games.”
A little reminder :
Sunday: leading Tampa Bay 24-14 in the third quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium to wobble and fall 38-31.
Week 8: sprinting to take a 14-0 first-quarter lead over the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil, but fading and falling 34-31 in overtime.
Week 5: led 22-3 in the third quarter and still held a 25-9 cushion with 12 minutes left in regulation in Baltimore, only to collapse and lose 31-25 in overtime.
Play a game, maybe a few. Do something – anything – to finish what you started and make the journey to the playoffs easier. The overtime loss to the Titans ended their sweep of the season and made the Colts’ possibility of winning the AFC South highly unlikely. Factor in the head-to-head tiebreaker, and they’re three back with five to go.
They insisted on making it as difficult as possible, and it was a collective failure.
Reich insisted on taking much of the blame.
âThe responsibility for this starts with me as the head coach,â he said. âI have to do a better job. I’m not just the caller of the offensive game, I’m the head coach. ”
But every phase of the team has helped explode those double-digit advances.
In Baltimore, Rodrigo Blankenship missed what would have been a winning field goal of 47 yards, a 37-yard attempt was blocked and missed a PAT after injuring his hip during pre-game warm-ups. After containing the Ravens led by Lamar Jackson for more than three quarters, the defense fell flat. Baltimore has scored touchdowns in their last four practices, racking up 296 yards on 32 plays, and also converted two critical 2-pointers PATs.
Play a game.
Against the Titans, the offense couldn’t maintain its quick start, Carson Wentz suffered a deadly pair of interceptions – a left-handed 6 pick from his own end zone and a game-sealing interception in OT – and the defense gave up three touchdowns and a basket in a six-possession stretch.
The defense appeared to have made one of those meaningful plays in the second quarter – an interception by Tyquan Lewis – but he lost the football after suffering a torn patellar tendon on the return. On the next play, Ryan Tannehill hit AJ Brown with a 57-yard touchdown.
Sunday? Five turnovers by offense and special teams that led Buccaneer to 24 points; none were more crippling than left tackle Eric Fisher beaten by Shaq Barrett, who came up with a strip / sack from Wentz. And the defense hasn’t had enough answers for Tom Brady, who has led kills on five of his last six possessions (four TDs, one basket).
âWe all have to improve a little bit,â Reich said. âWe have to train him a little better. I have to make another good call. There are a lot of good choices, but I have to make a right choice, the right choice, the perfect choice in the perfect situation to put our guys in the best scenario to make this game.
âFrom a player’s point of view, it’s just, hey, a game. Someone’s making that miraculous capture, that big save in defense, great play in special teams. . . that’s what you see when you look at the teams doing it. This is what they see. They get that from the coaches and players at the level that we need to win the game.
âSo I’m encouraged that we’re building these tracks against big teams. I know we have the players and the coaches to do it. We just have to prove it in a more consistent way. ”
DeForest Buckner’s status for Sunday’s trip to Houston is uncertain. The All-Pro defensive end briefly left the Tampa Bay game in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury and will likely be limited to training this week.
“Pretty high,” Reich said. âI don’t know if we’ll see him at the start of the week. We hope to see it at the end of the week, but we’ll have to take it day by day.
âThere is no guarantee on him.
Buckner returned for the second half and represented one of Brady’s two sacks. He also made three tackles and deflected one of Brady’s passing attempts.
Cost for Wentz
The Colts fully understood the scale and cost of acquiring Wentz during the February trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This price could crystallize Sunday in Houston.
As well as sending the Eagles a third-round pick in 2021, general manager Chris Ballard also packed a conditional pick for 2022. It’s a first round if Wentz plays in 75% of snaps this season, or 70% if Colts reach the playoffs. Otherwise, it’s a second round pick.
That first-round threshold could be broken against the Texans.
Wentz has been on the field for 792 of 804 offensive snaps in 12 games. It is 98.5%.
The Colts average 67 shots per game, which means Wentz needs to take 854 shots during the season to hit the 75% mark. Add another average day in Houston – 67 shots – and it’s at 859.
Anyone who claims the Colts need to sit Wentz down to protect their 22 first-round pick ignores the fact that Ballard made the trade expecting to lose that first-round pick. The conditional nature of the 22 draft pick was insurance given Wentz’s injury history.
Ballard didn’t invest as much in Wentz while hoping his new QB franchise would run out of playing time enough for the Eagles to end up with third and second round picks.
The AFC playoff photo
Clearly, Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay didn’t spur the Colts’ pursuit of a playoff berth.
But they remain very much at the heart of a confused AFC.
They are currently the No.10 seed in the conference – seven teams secure playoff spots – but are a half a game away from the No.7 spot held by the Los Angeles Chargers 6-5.
In fact, the Colts are one of the Chargers’ five short distance teams. The Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos are both 6-5, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are 5-5-1 and the Cleveland Browns 6-6.
The first 6 seeds: leader of AFC North Baltimore (8-3), leader of AFC East New England (8-4), leader of AFC South Tennessee (8-4) and AFC leader West Kansas City (7-4), followed by 7-4 Cincinnati and 7-4 Buffalo.
According to FiveThiryEight.com, the Colts have the most favorable odds of winning the third and final wildcard spot: 53%. It jumps to 62% if they win Sunday in Houston.
Odds for other contenders not ranked in the top 6: Chargers (50%), Broncos (27%), Raiders (19%), Browns (19%) and Steelers (10%).
Good luck trying to figure out what’s going to happen over the past six weeks.
The Chargers lost four of six and the Raiders three of four. Denver has won three of its last four games while Cleveland has lost three of its last five. Pittsburgh is 0-2-1 in its last three games and was outscored by Cincinnati 41-10 on Sunday.
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