INDIANAPOLIS – It will be duly recorded as the largest comeback in the 102-year history of the NFL. Regular season, postseason, any season.
Congratulations, Minnesota Vikings. You’ve supplanted the Frank Reich-led Buffalo Bills, who trailed Houston 35-3 in the third quarter in the 1992 postseason and chased down the Oilers 41-38 in overtime.
But that’s letting the Indianapolis Colts off the hook.
The Vikings’ 39-36 overtime victory at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday afternoon was the largest collapse in NFL history.
Shame on you, Indianapolis Colts.
Remember that 33-0 halftime lead? It was their fattest halftime lead since a 34-0 cushion against Miami in week 16 of 1997.
We’ll do the math for you. After the break, the Vikings – they were lustily booed off the field – outscored the Colts 39-3.
And now we’ll give you the magnitude of what interim head coach Jeff Saturday’s outfit achieved from a historical perspective. Since the NFL came into existence in 1930, teams with a 30-plus lead had been 1,548-1-1. That’s a 99.9% win probability.
But not for these Colts. Not in what has been a season that continually searches for rock bottom. Maybe that’s still to come.
Last week at Dallas, Indy trailed 21-19 in the fourth quarter and promptly gave up 33 points and was embarrassed 54-19.
Saturday, they still led 36-7 following Chase McLaughlin’s fifth field goal of the game with 4:53 remaining in the third quarter – a 52-yarder, his franchise-record eighth 50-yarder of the season – and promptly gave up 32 unanswered points, 25 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Again, we’ll do the math for you. That’s 58 points in the fourth quarter and OT in the last two games.
Saturday appeared a bit shell-shocked during his post-game press conference.
“Obviously a tale of two halves, right?’’ he said. “Started fast, had the lead and ultimately give up too many explosive plays. Don’t make enough explosive plays. Turn it over.’’
The Colts are 1-4 and have lost three straight since Saturday replaced Frank Reich on an interim basis. The win over the Raiders seems like forever ago. They’ve dropped seven of eight, sit at 4-9-1 and did nothing to slow their ascent up the pecking order for next April’s draft.
But again, this was historic in nature.
“It’s going to sting,’’ Saturday said. “Losing stings. It doesn’t matter. Every time we lose it stings. I look at this as no different than any of the other ones.
“They all hurt equally. Losses, they don’t ever feel good. It’s painful no matter what.’’
The second straight late collapse by the defense was stunning. It held the Kirk Cousins-led offense to 82 total yards, three first downs and zero points in the first half. After the break: 436 yards, 29 first downs, those 39 points.
Cousins was 6-of-12 for 43 yards and suffered an interception returned for a touchdown at the hands of Julian Blackmon in the first two quarters, then seriously heated up: 28-of-42, four TDs, one interception (Rodney Thomas) and 417 yards. That’s a 120.8 passer rating.
But the defensive meltdown went hand-in-hand with yet another game of offensive impotency.
Consider the breakdown of the Colts’ season-high 36 points. For the first time in franchise history they generated a trifecta: an offensive TD (Deon Jackson’s 1-yard pass from Matt Ryan), a defensive TD (Blackmon’s 17-yard pick-6) and a special teams TD (JoJo Domann’s 24-yard return with a punt deflected by Ifeadi Odenigbo).
There were the five McLaughlin field goals.
But just the one offensive TD.
While the Vikings padded their stats in the second half – Justin Jefferson finished with 123 yards on 12 catches, K.J. Osborn had 157 on 10 and Dalvin Cook had 95 yards rushing and receiving – the Colts got very little accomplished.
They failed to put the game out of reach in the first half. They were 1-for-4 in the red zone, and settled for three McLaughlin field goals after drives stalled at the 8, 10 and 9.
“When you get those chances, you’ve got to be opportunistic,’’ Ryan said.
The Colts were without catalyst Jonathan Taylor who aggravated a right ankle injury on the third play of the game, a 13-yard catch-and-run. It was a huge loss even though the run game generated 171 yards.
The Colts faced third-and-short situations on the failed red-zone trips: third-and-1, third-and-2, third-and-5. Backup back Zack Moss was engulfed for a 7-yard loss and a 2-yard loss on the first two, and Deon Jackson picked up only 2 yards on the third.
“When you have chances to put people away, we’ve gotta do a better job than we’ve done up to this point,’’ Ryan said. “From an offensive perspective, when you get your chances to score touchdowns, we’ve gotta come away with touchdowns.’’
That’s been a season-long issue. The Colts entered the game 28th in the league in red-zone touchdowns (17 on 36 trips, 47.2%).
But while the Colts essentially could have finished off the Vikings in the first half, they had ample opportunities to do likewise in the second half.
“We just didn’t make enough plays at the right time,’’ Ryan said. “It’s a handful of plays in a game. It’s three or four plays from an offensive perspective that we’ve got to find ways to execute and it’s a win.
“You’re trying to stop momentum. Like all sports, it’s a game of momentum. When it’s going against you, you’ve got to find a way to stop it, re-direct it and get it back going your way and we weren’t able to do that.
“You’re trying to have that one drive that kills momentum.’’
The Colts’ offense was efficient in the first half: 209 yards, 12 first downs, 4-of-9 on third-down conversions on 39 plays.
Then, everything was a struggle: 132 yards, eight first downs, 1-of-10 on third downs, 0-of-1 on fourth down.
The nine possessions to end the game, excluding Ryan’s kneel-down at the end of regulation, included McLaughlin’s field goal and six Matt Haack punts.
The other two were instrumental in the collapse.
With the Colts protecting a 36-28 lead and facing a first-and-10 at their own 38 with 3:28 remaining, Jackson lost a fumble. The defense stiffened and forced a punt, but the offense failed seize control.
On the ensuing series, the Colts faced a fourth-and-inches at the Vikings 36 with 2:31 remaining. Instead of opting for a 53-yard field goal by McLaughlin, Ryan’s sneak/scrum came up short.
“Long field goal, fourth-and-inches,’’ Saturday said, weighing the options in his mind. “I felt really good about the call.
“Would have closed the game out and ended the game. I’m in. Everybody’s in. We didn’t convert.’’
On the next play, Cook took a Cousins’ screen 64 yards for a touchdown. Cousins’ 2-point conversion to T.J. Hockenson tied it at 36-all.
Greg Joseph’s 40-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining completed the historic comeback/collapse and clinched the NFC North for Minnesota. The Vikings are 10-0 in one-score games.
It was the latest example of self-inflicted wounds killing the Colts. They had 11 penalties for 103 yards, both season highs. Six gave the Vikings first downs. The 11th, a delay of game against Odenigbo who tried to keep Jefferson from getting up as the clock was winding down, made Joseph’s game-winning field goal a tad easier.
In a bit of trivia: Ryan now has been involved in two of the biggest flops in NFL history. His Atlanta Falcons led New England 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI only to lose 34-28 in overtime.
“I’ve played in this league a long time to know that a lot of different things can happen,’’ he said. “Anything can happen.’’
Comeback. Or collapse.
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