INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been eight years, but who’s counting?
When the Indianapolis Colts open the season Sunday afternoon at Houston, they’ll lug one of the longest opening-day streaks of futility in NFL history with them into NRG Stadium.
They last won an opener Sept. 8, 2013. For those with shaky memories, they handled the then-Oakland Raiders 21-17 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Andrew Luck was in his second season and Reggie Wayne’s Hall of Fame-caliber career was winding down.
Both are in retirement, but the streak lives on.
We’re at eight consecutive seasons of 0-1, and counting.
“I’ve probably heard that a thousands times since I’ve been here,’’ Michael Pittman Jr. said Monday. “We’re just looking to break that streak.’’
It’s the NFL’s longest active streak, and is reaching historic levels. The only longer opening-day droughts: 13 by Cleveland and nine by Philadelphia.
Truth be told, the Colts should be motivated on two fronts.
Along with getting off to a 1-0 start for the first time in 3,290 days, there’s cleansing themselves of the stain of how last season ended. Remember the 26-11 loss at Jacksonville that kept them out the playoffs, incensed owner Jim Irsay and led to an offseason of major retooling?
“I told you guys before, I wore that loss since Jacksonville last year, a scar,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “Still got a little bit of that feeling coming off the field, the disappointment coming off the field.
“It’s been hard to wait that long.’’
Frank Reich knows the feeling.
“Yeah, certainly didn’t end well,’’ he said, adding, “we haven’t been good in the openers. Personally, you feel a sense of urgency there.
“I just know this: those are things that are in the past. Those are all real. It’s a great question, a very fair question. I suppose externally there are some forces that want to make me feel more pressure about that, but this is a different team. It’s a different year.
“What’s done is done. Let’s just get ready to play this game, this season. Take it one at a time. It’s hard to do, but that’s what the good teams do. So, we have to do a better job. I have to do a better job.’’
So many projections have the Colts overtaking the Tennessee Titans and winning the AFC South for the first time since 2014. Analysts point to the return of a slew of top-tier talent – Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, Shaquille Leonard, Buckner, Kenny Moore II, etc. – along with the addition of Matt Ryan, Yannick Ngakoue and Stephon Gilmore and the influx of an impactful rookie class.
“Obviously the guys know what we have on the roster,’’ Buckner said. “But it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t put it on tape and put it together on game day.’’
Houston would seem to offer an ideal opportunity for the Colts to snap their opening-day streak.
Since winning the AFC South in 2019 with a 10-6 record, the Texans are 8-25. They’ve lost four straight to the Colts – including 31-3 and 31-0 blowouts last season – and nine of the last 11.
But keep this in mind. Houston has handled Indy the only two times they’ve met to open a season: 34-7 in 2011 and 34-24 in ’10. Each was in Houston.
The Colts continue to take a wait-and-see approach with Leonard.
Their All-Pro linebacker practiced for the first time last week after undergoing back surgery in June, and will practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in preparation for the opener against the Texans.
So it remains possible Leonard could be cleared to play.
“Let’s get out there and practice, and keep making progress,’’ Reich said. “Don’t force anything, but let’s keep making progress.’’
An interesting issue is whether Leonard will be on a “pitch count’’ whenever he returns. Reich is unsure.
“In my mind I’m saying, ‘Well, there’s probably a natural progression to a pitch count,’ but I’m not saying that’s what it has got to be,’’ he said. “Like no doctor has said that to me, but it feels to me like that might be the right thing do do.
“But I just think we just need to see how he progresses. I think he’s doing well. I think he’s making progress.’’
The team handles players on a case-by-case basis.
“What you find over the years is sometimes different players respond differently,’’ Reich said. “The injury is kind of a unique injury. If it gets to the point where he’s comfortable and hey, 20 or 70 plays, it’s all the same . . . from a conditioning standpoint if he’s ready to go, then you let him play.
“It’s Shaq. I mean, he’s a great player, but we want to be smart as well.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.