INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Before transitioning to the next seven-day life cycle, a head coach deals with the fallout from the previous one. It might involve keeping tight reins on his emotions following a signature victory, or resisting the urge to question a handful of decisions that might have contributed to a crushing loss.
Before Frank Reich found a sanctuary for some serious self-reflection following his head coaching debut – the Indianapolis Colts’ 34-23 loss to Cincinnati – he spent some quality time with one of his trusted friends.
Reich had invited Bill Polian to Sunday’s opener at Lucas Oil Stadium. But instead of sharing some post-game revelry, there were words of reassurance.
“Just more encouragement about, ‘Hey, long season guys. Looked good, they played hard. It’s always a process. It always comes down to you’ve got good guys. Let’s keep at it. Keep believin’,’’’ Reich said Monday afternoon.
“Just normal encouragement stuff.’’
Did Reich need a post-game pick-me-up?
“You face ups and downs all the time,’’ he said. “When you get encouragement from someone in the Hall of Fame, you could always use it, right?’’
As Reich replayed the game in his mind – over and over and over again – his self-critique from an offensive play-calling standpoint apparently found only a few mulligan-worthy moments.
And remember, he called 82 plays, 77 if you exclude plays wiped out by penalties. That was the most offensive plays, by the way, since the Colts reeled off 77 against Denver in week 9 of 2015.
“I thought it went well,’’ Reich said.
One situation that nagged at him: first-and-10 at the Bengals 25-yard line with 1:09 remaining and the Colts driving toward a go-ahead touchdown. The drive began at the Indy 25, but Andrew Luck went no-huddle and up-tempo. His 10th pass on the do-it-or-else drive was a 3-yard completion to rookie running back Nyheim Hines on third-and-2.
“On that last drive, we had it rolling,’’ Reich said. “I didn’t like the screen pass call that I made.’’
On first-and-10, Luck flipped a screen to the right to Hines, who was engulfed by linebacker Nick Vigil for a 5-yard loss.
“I didn’t mind the call,’’ Reich said. “I should have checked it with something else if we got a certain look that we didn’t like, which we got.’’
Reich anticipated the Bengals would be in soft zone coverage, wary of Luck looking into the end zone. Instead, they hit the Colts with man coverage. Vigil was waiting for the toss to Hines.
“I should have given Andrew something else to work with,’’ Reich said. “I should have given him two plays to check to in case they played us tight man coverage, which is what they ended up doing.
“That would probably be my one regret from that drive.’’
After the game, Reich eluded to another.
After cornerback Kenny Moore II intercepted Andy Dalton to thwart Cincinnati’s opening drive and his return gave the Colts possession at the Bengals’ 7-yard line, Reich went conservative. He went with his power formation, which included tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron and rookie guard Braden Smith as an extra lineman. Rookie Jordan Wilkins ran behind Erbon, Smith and left tackle Joe Haeg for a 3-yard gain. After a holding penalty on rookie guard Qyenton Nelson, Luck made a bad decision and forced a pass to Doyle that was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Preston Brown.
“I blame myself for that first one,’’ Reich said in his post-game press conference. “I should’ve been more aggressive. We get the interception and get it down to the (4). I should’ve just went for the jugular. I should’ve just called a pass.
“I think I put our offense in a bad position. That one was on me.’’
Sunday evening was a time to reflect, reconsider, perhaps even second-guess some decisions. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a first-time head coach or a 10-year veteran.
“Probably like a lot of guys you beat yourself up,’’ Reich said. “Anytime you lose and you’re the head coach and the play-caller and you call 82 plays, there’s going to be a couple you wish you had back. You give yourself 24 hours, to not just beat yourself up, although you certainly do that.
“It’s really about learning: ‘What did I do right? What did I do wrong?’ You can’t play all the ‘What if and shoulda coulda’s.’ But you can learn. There are just so many variables you can play out.
“We’ll build off the positives. This is a brutal league and the losses are tough, especially the first one of the year because you put so much into it.’’
Cornerback Chris Milton is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Also, starting right tackle J’Marcus Webb suffered a hamstring injury that puts his availability for Sunday’s road test against the Washington Redskins in doubt.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.