INDIANAPOLIS – First things first: Frank Reich isn’t giving up his play-calling responsibilities.
Critics be damned.
That issue was broached in the aftermath of the Indianapolis Colts’ crushing overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday. Contributing to a setback that severely crippled the team’s playoff aspirations was a called tight-end screen late in the fourth quarter.
With the score tied at 24-all and 1:33 remaining, the offense faced a first-and-10 at its own 8-yard line. The result: a panicky left-handed flip out of the end zone by Carson Wentz that was intercepted by cornerback Elijah Molden and returned for a 2-yard touchdown.
After the game, Reich shouldered the blame.
“That was 100% my fault,’’ Reich said. “It was a bad call.”
“I’ve been around too long to know you don’t call a screen backed up in that situation.’’
Given a chance to review video and reconsider his stance, Reich remained steadfast with his blunt self-critique.
“I still feel the same about the screen call,’’ he said Monday. “It was a bad call. I wish I could justify it in some way, some shape or form, but I can’t.
“It was a bad call. So that’s on me.’’
There also was criticism directed at Reich for an overall game plan that resulted in Wentz attempting 51 passes – the second-most in his career, trailing only the 60 he unleashed as a rookie Philadelphia in 2016 – while the Jonathan Taylor-led run game had just 20 attempts.
But back to the point: has Reich considered turning over the play-calling responsibilities to coordinator Marcus Brady?
“No,’’ Reich quickly replied.
At the risk of coming to Reich’s defense – not on the tight-end screen, but on Taylor finishing with 16 rushes that netted 70 yards (4.4 average) – the overriding reason the Colts fell to 3-5, including 0-5 against teams that reached the 2020 playoffs, wasn’t the play-calling by the head coach as much as it was the decision-making by the quarterback in two critical situations.
After suffering the pick-6 late in regulation, Wentz was given a shot at atonement during overtime. But on first-and-10 at his own 27 and nearly 6 minutes remaining, he forced a pass to a heavily-covered Michael Pittman Jr. that was intercepted by safety Kevin Byard instead of taking a safe check-down to Taylor who was wide open in the middle of the field.
Taylor probably would have gained 15-20 yards, perhaps even given the Colts possession near midfield.
Wentz spent Sunday night combing through the video, and noticed “a lot of good offensively, things to build on.’’
But the two interceptions – after setting a franchise record with 212 consecutive passes without an interception – were glaring.
“Just the timing of the bad plays really killed us, and that’s me,’’ Wentz said. “That’s on me. I have to own that and be better in those situations.’’
It was clear, he added, the better option was to come off Pittman and dump a pass over the middle to Taylor.
“One hundred percent,’’ Wentz said. “He would have probably picked up 15-20 yards. So yeah, that one I’m definitely kicking myself over.
“The timing of it just really stinks.’’
Reich, meanwhile, elaborated on the Colts’ overall offensive imbalance.
“Some guys asked me after the game about the run-pass ratio,’’ he said. “I was probably fine with that. I was probably fine with how the calls came out towards the end of the game with the flow of the game.’’
Skewing the run-pass ratio were a pair of drives at the end of each half during: nine Wentz passes on a 12-play possession that led to Michael Badgley’s 34-yard field goal on the final play of the first half; four more on a five-play drive at the end of the fourth quarter that led to Taylor’s 1-yard game-tying TD out of the wildcat formation.
There were six RPOs (run-pass options), Reich reasoned, that turned into Wentz passes or runs rather than handoffs to Taylor, and a pair of long Taylor runs – 20 and 32 yards – wiped out by holding penalties on right tackle Braden Smith and right guard Chris Reed.
Also, Taylor had three receptions for 52 yards on four targets. The Colts’ first play of the game was a 37-yard swing pass to Taylor.
“When we throw it to him in a screen or a check-down or on a swing pass like we started the game, those are massive plays,’’ Reich said. “I’m not interested in just getting his rush total. That’s certainly a big deal. He’s a dynamic player in the pass game as well.
“Believe me, I want to get him as many rushing attempts as we can, but the flow of that game as I look back on it . . . I feel pretty comfortable with the way the game was called as far as that was concerned.’’
Wideout T.Y. Hilton has been ruled out of Thursday night’s meeting with the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium with a concussion.
The status of safety Khari Willis is uncertain after he was forced from Sunday’s game with a calf injury.
The Colts made several roster moves Monday, including placing Tyquan Lewis on the injured reserve list. The veteran defensive tackle tore his right patellar tendon after intercepting a Ryan Tannehill pass.
They also released veteran quarterback Brett Hundley, then re-signed him to the practice squad.
To fill the two spots on the active roster, the Colts elevated running back Deon Jackson and safety Josh Jones to the active roster.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.