INDIANAPOLIS – Reflection has revealed how things went so wrong.
Months have provided ample time to consider how a team in position to do something meaningful with two weeks remaining in the season let it all slip away.
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard pointed an accusing finger at the Indianapolis Colts en masse.
Everyone, he said with a shake of his head, “got comfortable with winning.’’
That peaked with the Christmas night road win at Arizona, but was followed by the historic face-plant in closing losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. From 9-6 and with a 98% chance of making the playoffs to 9-8 and going nowhere.
All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor offered a similar postmortem, and insisted it was a painful lesson everyone must take away from last season’s collapse.
“One of the biggest things is no matter how bad your season’s going, no matter how well you’re season’s going, you need to keep your foot on the gas,’’ he said Wednesday afternoon.
Taylor mentioned the Colts opening last season 0-3 and sliding to 1-4, but regrouping to win eight of 10.
“We were in a hole,’’ he said. “We worked, we worked, we worked and we got out of that hole. We started rolling a little bit.
“No matter what point in the season you’re in, how can you continue to keep your foot on the gas? Anytime you let your foot off the gas, I mean, it’s the NFL, anybody can beat anybody.
“We all have to have that mentality: how can we continue to keep our foot on people’s necks? You know we have the guys, we have the coaches, we have the culture. Now we have to put it in execution on the field.’’
That mindset – remain aggressive, keep the pressure on, strive to be better – seems engrained in the Colts’ 2020 second-round draft pick.
He’s coming off one of the greatest individual seasons – ever, at any position – by a Colt:
- a franchise-record and NFL-leading 1,811 rushing yards.
- a league-leading 2,171 total yards from scrimmage.
- a club-record and NFL-best 18 rushing TDs.
- 20 total TDs, which tied Lenny Moore’s club record and tied for most in the league.
- 10 100-yard rushing games, which tied Edgerrin James’ team mark.
- according to NFL Research, the 22-year old Taylor became the youngest player in league history with at least 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 TDs.
- unanimous first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.
There was so much to admire from a player who’s very much still in his formative years as a pro.
But while Taylor understands the magnitude of his Season for the Ages, he’s driven to do more.
Yes, he has that internal drive to keep his foot on the gas.
In year 3, he’ll be the unquestioned focal point of every defense the Colts face. But he’s prepared himself for that by analyzing every step he took in 2021 – the very, very good ones, and those that, in his estimation, could have been better.
“You look at ‘What did I do well? What did I excel in? Make sure that I continue to rep those things in order to stay up to par with those,’’’ Taylor said. “But with the things I didn’t do well in, you reflect.
“Maybe this play here, maybe that changes the course of that game. Maybe we win that game if I make that play. You don’t know what play decides a game, but you think about all of those things. The only thing you can do is how can I prepare my training throughout this offseason to ensure that this play in this game, this play in that game I make so now I never have to worry about missing those plays again. Maybe that changes the course of a few games and we make the playoffs.’’
Such a critical self-analysis should serve Taylor well and might be an appropriate process for his teammates.
It’s hard to imagine how Taylor could have done more to keep everything from collapsing around him.
He’s expecting more from himself in 2022 because he always demands more from himself. Taylor can join James (2003-05), Eric Dickerson (1987-89) and Lydell Mitchell (1975-77) as the only players in Colts’ history with three consecutive 1,000 yards seasons.
“The only thing I’ve thought about is you try to be the best every year,’’ he said. “If you try to do that you essentially should be in good shape.
“My only thing – same thing in college – was to be consistent every single year so that the coaches and teammates trust you day-in and day-out so that when 28 is on the field, we know exactly what we’re going to get. We’re going to get high-level play.’’
Welcome, Matt Ryan
Taylor’s third season involves a third starting quarterback. From Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan.
His eyes lit up when Wednesday’s discussion turned to Ryan.
“It’s been amazing to have him here,’’ Taylor said. “Just that presence, that energy he brings. An NFL vet: all eyes, all ears. Whatever he’s about to say, everyone’s tuned in because it’s going to be nothing but beneficial that comes out of his mouth.
“Just having that leadership, that kind of person in the building, that 14-year vet. This guy has seen a lot of things.’’
Taylor likens Ryan with Rivers. Ryan, who turns 37 May 17, comes to Indy following 14 prolific seasons in Atlanta. Rivers was signed as a free agent in 2020 after 16 Hall of Fame-caliber seasons with the Chargers.
“I hate to compare him to Philip Rivers because he’s different than Philip Rivres,’’ Taylor said, “but when you’re in the league at that position for so long, there’s not too many things you haven’t seen.
“To be able to hear and learn from him and see how detailed he is makes you want to be that detailed.’’
Taylor’s rookie learning curve was enhanced by Rivers’ presence. He foresees a similar relationship with Ryan.
“I can kind of get a little more in-depth with Matt Ryan since I’m not a rookie and I learned so much from Philip,’’ he said. “I’m really able to communicate on a higher level with Matt. It’s like fun because I’ve seen how much I’ve grown.
“You start thinking, ‘I’m talking like a quarterback now.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.