INDIANAPOLIS – This phrase is probably not in the Colts playbook: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Came from a French guy back in the 1840s; so long ago, it's even pre-Tom Brady.
But ain't that the truth so many times? It was Sunday.
Brady is 44 years old now, in a different city and a different uniform. And still, he knows how to drop a piano on the heads of the Colts. This latest was a 38-31 defeat that sprayed liquid oxygen on the Colts' surge toward a playoff spot, delivered by a late fourth quarter drive directed by You Know Who.
Brady was 15-4 against the Colts, 5-2 in Indianapolis, much of it accomplished against adversaries named Manning and Luck. Now he's 16-4 and 6-2. Still the prince of darkness after all this time. When Brady threw his first NFL pass, Jonathan Taylor was a 1-year-old. When Brady won his first Super Bowl, Carson Wentz was in third grade. When Brady made his first start in Indianapolis and beat Peyton Manning's Colts 38-17, the game was in the RCA Dome. An auto parts warehouse stood where Lucas Oil Stadium does now.
He has been the NFL's Public Enemy No. 1 in this town almost forever, which is why winning here never loses its thrill.
“Absolutely. Not a lot of love lost, I think,” he said. “That's what's the most important thing – not the past, not the future, but today.”
And yet, Brady was not the biggest issue in why Sunday ended so painfully bad for a home team running out of time to have bad days. The Colts had five turnovers, touching nearly every corner in football malfeasance: interceptions, fumbles, a botched punt return.
The giveaway flurry was ironic in two ways. How often does a team commit five turnovers and still score 31 points? Also, guess who came into the weekend leading the NFL in turnover differential with a plus-15? Right, the guys with horseshoes on their helmets. They had gone three consecutive games without a turnover.
Also, there was the use of Taylor, or lack thereof. The Bucs stuffed him early and the Colts eventually just stopped trying, Wentz going back to pass on 26 consecutive plays. Some were called, some were checks at the line of scrimmage, but on none was the football handed to the NFL's leading rusher. That's sure to be talk show fodder for those who wish to skewer the Indianapolis play calling. The Colts turned to Taylor in the fourth quarter, and his 58 yards spurred a touchdown drive to tie the game at 31. But more than three minutes were left, and Brady has conjured magic in a lot less.
It will be left to coach Frank Reich's film review to decide if an idle Taylor was a bad idea. Reich duly noted afterward that Taylor was going nowhere early, and Wentz was effective enough to pass for 306 yards and three touchdowns.
“Carson was hot ... we were rolling,” he said. “Normally someone will say something to me. The reason probably no one was saying anything was because a lot of the things we were calling were working.”
Wentz said afterward he had no idea he had tried to pass 26 times in a row. But when he looked across the line of scrimmage, he saw a lot of Tampa Bay players intent on shutting down Taylor.
“It is what you see in front of you,” Wentz said.
Most of all, Sunday was the latest display of what has been the fatal flaw in the 2021 Colts; the inability to seize the day from in front. They're 6-6 and when they have won, they have usually done it comfortably – five of their six victories by double digits. When they lose, it has often been like a size-14 cleat in the stomach – four of the six defeats by one possession. They were ahead 22-3 against Baltimore, up 14-0 on Tennessee, had a 24-14 halftime lead Sunday. All slipped away.
“You hate to walk in here in the locker room feeling good early on, and then walking away with a loss,” Wentz said.
One number might long haunt these Colts. They have led by double digits in nine consecutive games – but might not make the playoffs because they lost three of them.
“There's no consolation prize for going toe-to-toe,” Taylor said. “You've got to find a way.”
That's why Reich began his postgame press conference with two words: Tough loss.
He's had to use that phrase a lot this season. With or without Brady.
Mike Lopresti columns appear periodically.