Colts on 3-game skid and 1-4, but not ‘losing the belief’

FOXBOROUGH, MA - OCTOBER 04: Chester Rogers #80 of the Indianapolis Colts returns a punt during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 4, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Be encouraged after watching the Indianapolis Colts not roll over and once again be on the wrong end of a Tom Brady/Patriots-administered whuppin’.

Be inspired by so many mid- and lower-level players stepping up and doing what they could in the absence of T.Y. Hilton, Anthony Castonzo, Darius Leonard, Marlon Mack, Jack Doyle and so many others.

But the bottom line remains the bottom line: Thursday night’s 38-24 loss to the Patriots. That’s eight straight losses to New England. More to the point, that’s three straight losses and four in five games.

Moral victories have no place in the NFL, even though there’s no denying the incredible resolve shown by Reich’s group. Let’s not casually dismiss there were about a dozen starters or front-line players out with a variety of injuries or for personal reasons.

But two post-game comments, both from Frank Reich, resonated.

“I promise you, we don’t ever think we are outmanned,’’ he said.

And.

“I don’t want to over-dramatize this, but there is no other locker room I’d rather be in,’’ he said. “But here’s the deal: we got to own what we put up. We put up 1-4 and we got to own that.

“And that’s part of turning things around. We believe we have a good team and have not played our best football yet.’’

Own what we put up.

The Colts are 1-4. Since the start of 2017, they’re 5-16.

Here’s where we’ll remind you the Colts are in danger of posting a fourth straight non-winning record. The longest previous streak spanned two cities (1978-86). The last time they endured four consecutive non-playoff seasons: 1988-94.

As much as Reich is in a win-now mode, he’s almost driven more by the process of getting to a bottom line that remains ugly. He refused to use the spate of injuries as an excuse for the Colts’ inability to keep up with Brady and the Patriots.

“We believe in our players,’’ Reich said Friday evening. “We believe we have the talent to win games. We can match-up with teams talent-wise.

“We just have to play good, clean football.’’

Or as Andrew Luck put it, “we’re not going to win consistently until we learn how to get out of our own way. We’re going to have to learn how not to lose before we want to give ourselves a chance to win.

“We’re all frustrated, but I don’t think anybody’s losing the belief.’’

Luck added: “This business is about wins and losses. I don’t think anybody’s naïve enough to think it’s not about that. So we have a boatload of work to do. I feel like I have a boatload of work to do.

“It’s frustrating on one end, but on the other end, we’re going to get better.’’

One positive from playing two games in five days is having the weekend off. The Colts need it, and likely will be back at work Monday with some of their injured players ready to return.

Then comes a three-game stretch that, from a win-loss standpoint, probably determines whether the Colts are able to remain relevant or will be jockeying for a lofty position in next April’s draft.

The next three: at the New York Jets (1-3 and led by rookie QB Sam Darnold), home with Buffalo (1-3 and led by rookie QB Josh Allen) and at Oakland (1-3 and led by enigmatic Derek Carr).

Through it all, Reich will continue to sermonize on how each week – each day – must be approached. It’s the same message he’s been delivering since April.

“The bottom line is you have to take ownership and responsibility for what we put on the field,’’ he said. “And ultimately that’s measured in wins and losses. We all know that and that is a very key metric in owning it.

“But it goes deeper than that. It goes to every little step along the way. You guys know we talk about toughness, this relentless pursuit to get better every day. It really is about that tough mindset, taking ownership and responsibility, all of us coaches and players, for what we’re putting out there.

“It’s a belief and a trust that if we’re willing to risk that and do that – sometimes people don’t want to take ownership and responsibility – but for those individuals and those teams that are willing to do that, it accelerates the growth process and it creates a stronger foundation.’’