INDIANAPOLIS – With so much on the line, Frank Reich received counsel from someone who’s been heavily involved in such situations.
Hello, Tony Dungy. How ya doin’?
Reich occasionally checks in with his former colleague and long-time friend, and that was the case Tuesday. Two days earlier, Reich’s Indianapolis Colts saw a 24-14 third-quarter lead disintegrate and turn into a 38-31 loss. It snapped their three-game winning streak and dropped them to 6-6.
In the end, the Colts didn’t do enough right and did way too much wrong. They suffered a season-high five turnovers that led to 24 Buccaneer points.
It marked the third time in eight games the Colts saw a double-digit lead turn into a loss: the Bucs, against Tennessee in week 8 and at Baltimore in week 5. The latter two came in overtime.
During his seven-year stint as Colts’ head coach, Dungy always stressed the need to consistently do the little things at a high level. Reich listened; he was on Dungy’s staff from 2006-08.
That message was delivered again Tuesday.
“I talked to coach Dungy yesterday, just kind of a check-in,’’ Reich said. “I usually check in with him once or twice a year just to kind of hear some perspective.
“He just reminded me, ‘Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary way’ . . . just do it consistently. Coaches, players, just keep doing it consistently, keep preparing. We know we’ve played really good football this year and have failed to close out three games that we should have.’’
Reich pointed to Tom Brady’s game-winning drive Sunday. It was eight plays and 75 yards. It really was nothing out of the ordinary by Brady.
“Did they do anything crazy?’’ Reich asked. “No, they didn’t do anything crazy. They ran their basic running plays and Brady threw a couple of quick outs.
“It’s just doing ordinary things and doing them very well in whatever phase we’re in. I think that’s really our focus.’’
The Colts are the No. 10 seed in the AFC with five games remaining, starting with Sunday’s trip to Houston. But they’re only one-half game behind the No. 7-seeded Los Angeles Chargers (6-5). Squandering early opportunities has narrowed their margin of error.
“It’s a slim margin of error,’’ Reich conceded. “What do you do about that? You prepare, you focus and you just keep getting better and build the momentum so that we’re playing our best football in December and going into January.
“Just do what it takes to get in and feel like we have the kind of team that can go somewhere.’’
Buckner: I’m playing
It’s only Wednesday and he didn’t practice, but DeForest Buckner was unwavering as he considered the Colts’ Sunday road trip to Houston.
“I plan on playing this Sunday,’’ the veteran defensive tackle said.
That seemed unlikely during the second quarter of last Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. After a short run by Leonard Fournette, Buckner remained on the ground. He frequently reached for his right knee.
“When I felt my knee go, I knew what I did. I hyperextended it,’’ he said. “The initial blow when I was on the ground . . . I couldn’t even move my leg a little bit. I was kind of letting the pain settle in.’’
Buckner limped off the field, went to the medical tent, then tested the stability of the knee. At halftime, the medical staff taped it up and he returned for the second half.
Over the final two quarters, Buckner produced one sack of Brady and batted down another of Brady’s passes.
The knee injury, he insisted, was “nothing I couldn’t really fight through. I knew I was able to still go out there and play.
“I would have felt terrible if I knew I could still go and even though I was hurt and sore, if I could still go and I didn’t go in, I definitely would have felt some regret not going back in and helping my team with everything I could.’’
Availability has been one of his calling cards.
During his six-year career, Buckner has missed only two games, one because of injury. He missed the Colts’ week 12 loss to Tennessee while on the COVID-19 list last season and missed the fifth game of his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers with a sprained Lis Franc.
“I didn’t miss a game in college,’’ Buckner said.
The defense could soon get a boost with the return of Khari Willis. The starting safety remains on the injured reserve list but was designed to return to practice Wednesday. He’s missed the last four games with a calf injury.
“We’ll evaluate him day to day, continue to make a decision on him,’’ Reich said.
It’s conceivable the Colts activate him for Sunday’s game at Houston, or they might give him additional time. After facing the Texans, the Colts have their bye week before entertaining 8-4 New England Dec. 18.
Also, the Colts are cautiously optimistic wideout Parris Campbell could return for the Dec. 25 game at Arizona. He underwent foot surgery in October.
“Parris is continuing to make really good progress,’’ Reich said. “Probably not ready to make any kind of definitive statement on him, but he is making good progress.’’
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