INDIANAPOLIS – Now, the rebuild begins.
Or, if it makes you feel better, now the Indianapolis Colts face a massive teardown in the coming months. We won’t argue semantics.
That’s the overriding consequence from a 2022 that began with an overtime tie to the Texans in Houston on Sept. 11 and concluded with a sticking-to-form 32-31 loss to those same Texans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
From 0-0-1 to 4-12-1, and with so much in between: offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and head coach Frank Reich being fired, owner Jim Irsay yanking Jeff Saturday off the ESPN set to replace Reich on an interim basis, three quarterbacks starting for just the third time since 1998, the biggest collapse in NFL history, 1-7 with Saturday running things, and on and on and on.
And then there’s this: the Colts closed the season with a seven-game losing streak for just the second time in franchise history. The only other time: 1953, their inaugural year in the NFL. They lost 10 of their last 11 for the first time in club history.
“The expectations were high and they weren’t met,’’ quarterback Sam Ehlinger said, “but we learned a lot about ourselves.’’
The loss to Houston was simply a microcosm of the previous 16 games. It was error-filled (three turnovers, leading to 10 Texans’ points), and as frustrating and infuriating as so many other moments this year.
But it’s doubtful it swayed owner Jim Irsay’s mind regarding what must be done. He exited the locker room Sunday without comment.
From a glass half-full standpoint, the loss – coupled with Denver’s win against the Los Angeles Chargers – secured the 4th overall pick in the April draft for the Colts. Houston’s reward for winning was yielding the No. 1 slot to the 3-14 Chicago Bears and slipping to No. 2 with its 3-13-1 record.
The losing sends the Colts into the great known. In the coming days, weeks and months, they must:
Determine their head coach
Per league rules, they officially had a coaching vacancy at the conclusion of the game. Saturday has stated he wants to be considered for the position on a full-time basis, and Irsay must adhere to the Rooney Rule and interview minority candidates before settling on his choice.
“I have given zero thought to any of that,’’ Saturday said. “I told those guys when I walked in the locker room the first time – and it has not changed – was to serve them the best I could, and I feel for those guys. I can assure you, losing as a coach is much more painful than losing as a player.’’
Evaluate the roster
The current Colts’ roster features numerous players who need to be part of the future, but has obvious deficiencies (hello, quarterback).
There are roughly 20 pending free agents, including Chase McLaughlin, Parris Campbell, Bobby Okereke, Tyquan Lewis, Yannick Ngakoue and E.J. Speed.
Decide how best to handle that 4th overall pick
It must target the best available quarterback (Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis).
Things changed dramatically with the Bears leapfrogging the Texans. Chicago has its franchise QB (Justin Fields) and likely will put a “For Sale’’ sign up for the top pick. How much will Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard be willing to part with to move up four spots?
The GM situation
As for General Manager Chris Ballard, Colts owner Jim Irsay is on record saying he’ll return for a seventh season despite a 46-54-1 record, two postseason appearances, one playoff win and zero AFC South titles.
There’s going to be revamp of the quarterback’s room regardless.
Matt Ryan, who was benched twice, probably will be released. He’s due to count $35 million against the salary cap next season, but the Colts will save $17 million by making their relationship a one-year affair.
Also, Nick Foles, who missed the Houston game with rib injuries, might be released as well. As he’s said on several occasions, he signed his two-year deal with the Colts in the offseason to be reunited with Reich.
As for Ehlinger, it’s difficult to determine how he’ll fit in. A mid-level veteran more than likely will be signed to give the first-round pick time to get his feet on the ground.
In three starts – his first real NFL experience – Ehlinger completed 63.4% of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns, including one against Houston that was the result of a bad decision. With a defender tugging on his ankles, Ehlinger flicked a pass that Jonathan Greenard returned 39 yards for a touchdown.
“I should have just thrown it away,’’ Ehlinger said.
That’s how it’s been for the Colts. So many times, someone just should have done something else. Along with Ehlinger’s two interceptions, Dallis Flowers lost a fumble on a kickoff return; teammate Cameron McGrone accidentally punched the ball out. The three turnovers pushed Indy’s total to 34, and they’ve led to 113 points. That’s a league-high and the Colts’ most since 2001 (38).
The season was a learning process for Ehlinger, a 2021 sixth-round pick.
“It’s been an absolute roller coaster,’’ he said. “But it’s a roller coaster that I loved riding. I love the guys on the team. I love these coaches.’’
“Yeah, the expectations were high and they weren’t met, but we learned a lot about ourselves as players.’’
About that game on Sunday…
As for the game, the Colts grabbed a 28-24 fourth-quarter lead with Ehlinger’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Mo Alie-Cox, but the defense was unable to close the deal.
In the final 1 minute, 26 seconds, they allowed Davis Mills to convert a fourth-and-12 with a 30-yard completion to Brandin Cooks, a fourth-and-20 – fourth-and-20 for cryin’ out loud! – with a 28-yard touchdown to Jordan Akins that went through the hands of leaping safety Rodney Thomas II, and a two-point PAT to Akins.
Anyone who’s stuck around and watched the Colts’ death spiral had to see this coming. A defense that played at a high level early in the season allowed a game-winning fourth-quarter/overtime drive for the fourth time in seven games. Remember Minnesota? Pittsburgh? Philadelphia?
“Really kind of the story of our season, right?’’ Saturday said. “Give ourselves a shot and unfortunately at the end we didn’t close it out.
“And similar to other games we had, it was a number of different plays, different players, different opportunities.’’
Same ol’ same ol’.
Until the rebuild – or teardown – begins.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.