INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They’re headed into the fourth-quarter phase of the season, which should send a mini-shiver down the Indianapolis Colts’ collective spine.
Lately, the fourth quarter has left them flummoxed and drained much of the positive vibes from their once-vibrant postseason aspirations.
Following a 15-13 win over Denver delivered on Adam Vinatieri’s 51-yard field goal in the closing seconds, the Colts stood tall at 5-2. They led the AFC South and were heading into what by all appearances was a season-defining portion of their schedule.
It was. Unfortunately.
Instead of taking care of business, maintaining control of the division and setting themselves up for a push for a high seed in the AFC playoffs, the Colts are on life-support. They’ve lost four of their last five while dealing with mounting injuries at key offensive skill positions.
Most damning has been their inability to finish what they’ve started. In the four losses to Tennessee, Houston, Miami and Pittsburgh, they’ve had a fourth-quarter lead only to see it disappear because of, well, you name it. There was:
(BULLET) Adam Vinatieri’s wayward 46-yard “laces’’ field-goal attempt with 1 minute remaining in the 26-24 loss to the Steelers.
(BULLET) Brian Hoyer’s crippling interception and a failed fourth-and-10 at the Miami 16 with 45 seconds to play in the inexcusable 16-12 loss to the one-win Dolphins.
(BULLET) T.Y. Hilton’s inability to convert a third-and-4 and Jacoby Brissett coming up short on fourth-and-7 – each near midfield – in the 20-17 loss at Houston.
(BULLET) the final 5 minutes in Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the Titans. First, there was Tennessee exploiting the Colts’ protection on Vinatieri’s 46-yard field goal attempt that would have given them a 20-17 lead, blocking it and returning it 63 yards for a touchdown. Two plays later, Brissett airmailed an interception to Ryan Logan that essentially sealed things.
“The answer is making plays,’’ Darius Leonard said Tuesday. “We’ve got to finish better. That’s all it comes down to. That’s it.
“Just got to finish better.’’
The Colts deal with roughly 150 plays per game, including special teams.
“We just go with the philosophy that everything we do matters and every play matters,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “Sure, it’s easy to go back and look and say, ‘Well, if we had done this it might have been different. If we would have done this on this play, it might have been different.’
“But I really believe it’s the collective whole of the entire game.’’
Yet inevitably there are a handful of plays that resonate more than others. If a quarterback suffers an interception, a cornerback gets beat deep or a kicker yanks a field-goal attempt in the first quarter, there’s plenty of time to make amends.
Mess up late and often it costs you the game.
“Every game is a game of four or five plays,’’ Anthony Walker said. “You’ve got to make four or five. Everybody knows you never know when that moment is. You try to make every moment count.
“Unfortunately, now we’re not able to do that. We’re losing the one- or two- or three-play battle, It just sucks right now, but this is a new opportunity this week.’’
Remember 2017? The Colts finished 4-12 while Brissett filled in for Andrew Luck, and they were not a good bunch. But they frittered away five fourth-quarter leads.
That nasty trend ended last season as the Colts squandered only two fourth-quarter leads (the opener against Cincinnati and at Philadelphia). Their ability to close was instrumental in a 10-6 record and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Now, they again are failing to close the deal.
The prevailing images from Sunday’s loss to the Titans are the dramatic “kick-6’’ and a pair of Brissett interceptions.
In Brissett’s case, two throws completely overshadowed an otherwise solid afternoon. He passed for 319 yards – the second-highest total of his career – and a touchdown to Jack Doyle. He was effective until the Titans began finding cracks in his protection.
“I thought Jacoby made a ton of good plays,’’ Frank Reich said. “Obviously, he had a couple of plays that he’d like to have back, but we all do. I can tell you I got one or two calls that I’d like back as a play-caller.’’
Sirianni understands the focus on how a quarterback – any player for that matter – performs in the fourth quarter. That’s generally when games are won, or lost.
“That’s just the life of the quarterback, fair or unfair. And he knows that,’’ Sirianni said. “That’s just the way it goes with his position. He had a great game. Would we like to have those two passes back? Absolutely.
“But besides that, he did play well. But we know those plays still count. That’s just the way his position goes.’’
Added Brissett: “It’s the whole game that’s magnified. It’s never one play in the fourth quarter that loses you a game. It’s just concentration throughout for 60 minutes.
“The teams that can do that, those are the teams that win.’’