INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts were 18 minutes away Monday from the type of signature victory they needed to turn around what has been a tough season.
Eighteen minutes. On national television. Against a playoff-caliber opponent.
But then, more than missed field goals happened. The defense made Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson look like more than just an MVP candidate -- they made him look like a Hall of Famer. And Colts coach Frank Reich's play calling didn't help.
“I don’t know what went wrong,” a somber Darius Leonard said after the game. “I just feel very frustrated.”
“Painful, painful loss,” Reich said. “We had a great week of preparation. Through three quarters of the game, we’re playing excellent football. Need to find a way to finish games. It is possible to lose a game and make progress and strides, but losing is not acceptable.”
The Colts (1-4) still have 12 games left on their schedule, but the clock is ticking on them because of their slow start. They’re two games behind the Tennessee Titans (3-2) in the AFC South. And while the schedule is in their favor (four of their next five games are against teams with a losing record), nothing is guaranteed, not even Sunday's game (1 p.m. ET, CBS) against the Houston Texans (1-4).
“You know, it’s a long season, and we are still in October – early October,” Wentz said. “And it’s a long season. So, we don't get caught up in that. We get caught up in who’s next and what’s coming down the road here.
"And, yeah, I wish I didn’t have to keep saying we are going to learn from it and get better, but that’s the approach we are going to have to have every single week. ... But, every week, it is a little better and a little better, and we have played some good teams. And so, for us, we cannot get caught up in the record or where we are at or how that looks. We just have to come out and try and go 1-0 every week and just keep learning from these little moments.”
After the loss, Wentz gathered the team together inside the locker room and told them they have to have a "killer instinct" and know how to put a team away when the opportunity presents itself.
It’s good that Wentz has taken on the leadership role, but that’s not the type of message a desperate team needs to be hearing at this point in the season if it wants to get back on track.
Over the course of the game, the Colts' defense went from looking like a group worthy of praise to the unit that deserved the brunt of the blame, after failing to slow Jackson and Baltimore’s offense down late. The Ravens (4-1) were down 22-3 with about three minutes left in the third quarter before starting their run.
“In the course of those drives, we tried various things,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “We had simulated pressures, zone pressures, we rushed four, played quarters … we did variations with those things.”
For as good as Jackson was in the second half and overtime – 335 yards and four touchdowns – the Colts should have won the game.
But kicking issues – and injuries -- with kicker Rodrigo Blankenship had him missing an extra point and a field goal while also having a field goal blocked, leaving seven points off the board for Indianapolis. The second-year player was scheduled to have an MRI on his hip Tuesday. Reich didn’t rule out the possibility of bringing in another kicker this week.
Reich has never been known for his conservative play calling, but he tightened up and played it safe when the opportunity was there for them to essentially put the game out of reach.
Up eight on their second-to-last drive of the fourth quarter, the Colts moved the ball down to Baltimore’s 18 when Reich called running plays on second and third down instead of trying to deliver the knockout punch. The Ravens blocked Blankenship’s kick to give Jackson a chance to send the game into overtime.
“It was not the most aggressive call, but the thinking was this was a 94% make rate,” Reich said. “The kicker is a little bit compromised, [the Ravens] will have to use another timeout, but it didn’t work.”
The challenge will be whether the Colts can leave what happened behind them, learn from it, and develop the “killer instinct” Wentz talked about.
“It’s a good test for us,” Reich said. “It’s a week-to-week league, and whether you win this game or lose, you have to put it behind you in a hurry. We have to flush this out real quick and get ready to go. There is still a lot of football left.”