For 3rd time in 4 seasons, Colts need win in final game to reach playoffs

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – This isn’t where Frank Reich thought his Indianapolis Colts would be on the final week of the NFL regular season.

Not in another one of those win-or-else situations with no bounce-back opportunity looming next week.

Not rehashing his team’s failure to seal the deal against the Las Vegas Raiders and needing to regroup, reboot or reset – basically taking full advantage of a mulligan moment – for Sunday’s season-ending trip to Jacksonville.

Check that. It’s either season-extending if the Colts regain their balance, win and earn at least a No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture, or season-ending if they’re unable to gather themselves and end their six-year road drought against the Jaguars.

The last time the Colts won in Jacksonville: Sept. 21, 2014. Andrew Luck passed for 370 yards and Trent Richardson had a team-high 14 carries for 57 yards in a 44-17 blowout at EverBank Field.

Only T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle have first-hand memory of that victory.

“We know that we’ve struggled down there,’’ Reich said Monday. “This team takes a lot of pride, right, in playing us the way they play us.

“So, we’ll have to bring our best effort this week.’’

It won’t be as if the Colts haven’t been in this situation before.

For the third time in Reich’s four seasons as head coach, they face the prospect of needing a win in the final week of a season to keep playing. Remember?

Week 17 of 2018: In the final game of the NFL’s regular season – primetime, Dec. 30, in Nashville – the Colts earned the No. 6 seed with a 33-17 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans. Luck passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns and Marlon Mack piled up 119 yards on 25 carries.

Week 17 of 2020: The Colts responded to another win-or-else season finale – Jan. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium – by running Jacksonville out of Indy. Literally. Rookie Jonathan Taylor shattered Edgerrin James’ single-game record with 253 yards on 30 attempts in a 28-14 victory. The reward was a No. 7 seed.

And now, Sunday in Jacksonville.

Unable to clinch a playoff berth against the Raiders, the Colts are afforded a rare do-over.

“Believe me, I had every intention of it not coming down to this last week,’’ Reich said. “I think in this business, hey, we embrace it. You embrace the moment that you have. It’s an opportunity to turn it into something positive.

“We take nothing for granted. We’re not assuming, ‘Hey, we got our bad game out of us. We’ll get right back on track. We’re playing a team that has a poor record.’’

Jacksonville is a league-worst 2-14 and dealing with an eight-game losing streak that began with a 23-17 loss to the Colts in week 10 in Indy. Over their last seven games, the Jaguars have been outscored 214-78. That includes Sunday’s 50-10 blowout loss at New England.

So, an easy path to the postseason, right?

“No,’’ Reich insisted. “We don’t fall into that trap. We have to earn everything.’’

The Colts put themselves in an enviable position against the Raiders by reeling off wins in eight of 10 games following their 1-4 start. But they came out flat, disjointed Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium and paid the price.

A bounce-back effort at Jacksonville will make that misstep a footnote on the season.

Reich said playing in an all-or-nothing game “brings a heightened sense.’’

He also insisted the loss to the Raiders didn’t shake his confidence in his team.

“I really don’t have any hesitation or concern,’’ he said. “I think when you look over the body of work and if you look at the trend – look at the graph and the trend – it’s been going up for a long time.

“Then when you zoom out, you wouldn’t even notice this little blip that was a negative yesterday. It was a negative. Nobody’s trying to avoid that. But over the course of the season, it’s just a little blip with the trend going up.’’

The Colts are tied for the NFL lead in turnover differential (plus-16) and total takeaways (33). Linebacker Darius Leonard has accounted for 12 of those takeaways, and forced seven fumbles.

They rank 2nd in rushing (152.9 yards per game) and have followed the lead of Taylor. The second-year back leads the league in rushing (1,734) and total yards from scrimmage (2,076), and broke Edgerrin James’ single-season record against the Raiders.

And the playoffs are right there.

“We still have everything in front of us,’’ Reich said. “I see and feel a team that I have a lot of belief and confidence in in who we’ve established ourselves to be over 16 games.

“I think that’s who we’ll be going forward.’’

All it takes is a quick regroup.

“I wouldn’t say anger, but we don’t like what we put on film,’’ running back Nyheim Hines said, turning his attention from the Raiders to the Jaguars. “Really it’s just a reset. We didn’t put a lot of good (things) on film. We didn’t play great in any phase of the ball.

“We’re going to reset and go try to play our football this week because last week was not a great representation of it.’’

Hines has been part of the two previous high-wire acts by the Colts. In 2018, they had to scramble back from a 1-5 start. This season, it was 1-4.

“One thing I’ll say, no matter what we always give ourselves a chance,’’ he said. “It’s our destiny, so we control it. We control how we go out there and play. We control how we execute. It doesn’t really matter what the other team does.

“We’ve been in these moments. We were 1-4, so every game since like week 6 has been a playoff game. We shouldn’t press any harder because we’ve been in tight games like this. This experience should take over and help us win this game.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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