The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 01, 2021 1:00 am

Self-inflicted wounds flatten Colts

Mike Lopresti | Special for The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – It is Halloween evening and there are long faces in Lucas Oil Stadium. You look at the Indianapolis Colts and somehow think of Charlie Brown from Peanuts. You know the one, when all the other kids were talking about their candy from trick-or-treat, and he looked in his bag and sighed, “I got a rock.”

The Colts got a rock Sunday. A big, ugly one that was a disappointment to the bone. But first, while they sweep up the division hopes in Lucas Oil Stadium with a whisk broom and Frank Reich throws himself on the coaching sword, we should remember what Sunday meant.

The pregame standings, with the Tennessee Titans already two games ahead in the AFC South, reminded that the hour was crucial. The schedule, reaching the halfway pole this week, suggested the time was now. “Must-win game,” linebacker Darius Leonard called it one day last week, leaving no room for misunderstanding and no margin for error.

Which is why the 34-31 loss in overtime Sunday is a very large piano dropping on the Colts' heads. Tennessee lead is now three games up with nine to play. Actually four games, since the Titans win the tiebreaker. Kiss the division goodbye. The wild card? The Colts are 3-5 and you'd think a 10-7 record is the absolute least it will take, and with Buffalo, Arizona and Tampa Bay still on the schedule ... well, we'll see. Doesn't look good.

No wonder cornerback Kenny Moore II sounds a little dejected. “We knew what was at stake. We knew the AFC South – that was the game, and we lost.”

No wonder Leonard seems a tad miffed. “You put everything in this game. You sacrifice so much, (then) come out and lose. ... It hurts and it sucks.”

The defense held the NFL's most productive and feared running back, Derrick Henry, to 68 benign yards.

The Colts still lost.

The Titans tried to throw away the game, gift-wrapping it in yellow flags. They had 161 yards of penalties, 42 on a pass interference that handed Indianapolis a game-tying touchdown in the final 22 seconds of regulation.

The Colts still lost.

Indianapolis had a best-case scenario start, getting the crowd enthused with a quick 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes of the game.

The Colts still lost.

“I thought the will to win was unreal,” Reich said.

The Colts still lost.

Why? Two ghastly Carson Wentz interceptions come to mind. He had thrown 212 consecutive passes without an interception, a franchise record formerly owned by Jeff George. But not long after Wentz went into the record book, he put up an ill-judged left-handed shovel under pressure in the end zone that the Titans swiftly turned into a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Then he tried to force an overtime pass to Michael Pittman Jr., who seemed to be surrounded by half of Nashville, and that led to the game-ending Tennessee field goal.

So he's the goat, right? Here's a voice to differ. Frank Reich.

That disastrous lame duck of an interception was supposed to be a screen pass to Mo Alie-Cox, which seemed liked a good idea at the time. Reich discussed it with his staff before the Colts even got possession and everyone went thumbs up. Of course, that was before the Tennessee punt put the Colts at their own 8. The play was called anyway, and the Titans were all over it; Wentz was left to get sacked for a safety or try something foolish. He did the latter.

“That was 100 percent my fault,” Reich said. “I've been around too long to know you don't call a screen backed up in that situation. That's a terrible play call.” He is also taking blame for going for it on fourth down too often, and for too many Indianapolis penalties and for maybe hatching a game plan that tilted way to one side, with 51 passes but only 16 rushing attempts by Taylor.

“I just feel like that's ultimately a reflection on me,” he said. Meanwhile, Wentz said: “I'm still mad at myself. Beating myself over those ones at the end of the game for sure.”

So this is where things stand: The New York Jets come to town in four days and then the rest of the schedule, which might just be playing for show unless the Colts knock off some big guys and start making wild card noise.

Here's Reich: “I understand it's a really big hole to come back and win the division. The odds are really stacked against us, but I'm just not wired to think like that.”

Here's Wentz: “We know where we are at. ... We have to learn from it. We have to finish better. I have to finish better – no doubt about that. And we will.”

And here's a fact of life in the NFL: It's never good news when the head coach and quarterback are taking the rap after a game. Especially a game like this one.

Mike Lopresti's columns appear periodically. 

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