INDIANAPOLIS – Seldom does the NFL offer mulligans. You know, a chance to re-tee and make up for that wicked duck-hook into the trees or slice into the pond.
Most of the time, the bill comes due immediately for a late-season pratfall with so much on the line.
So often, the Indianapolis Colts would face stiff, perhaps fatal repercussions for responding to a win-and-in-the-playoffs situation against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium with a lack of emotion, a lack of execution and a subpar game from their quarterback.
Frequently, the 23-20 loss wouldn’t be a blemish on an inspiring late-season surge, but a stake through the heart.
“The good news for us as a team and for Colts Nation is everything’s still in front of us,’’ coach Frank Reich, his obvious disappointment from the loss temporarily replaced by optimism rooted in the mulligan that awaits. “Everything we want is still in front of us, it really is.’’
Added Carson Wentz, whose week began with a positive test and trip to the COVD-19 list and ended with a massively inconsistent outing: “Obviously today we didn’t get it done. But we’re excited for the opportunity to win, get it in. We’ve got to win this one, first and foremost
“We’ve got to regroup from this one. Didn’t play our best ball. Hopefully, put our best performance out there next week and see what happens.’’
Next Sunday became the only game that matters after Wentz and the Colts failed to take care of business against the Raiders.
For the second consecutive week and despite Sunday’s face-plant, Indy faces a win-and-in moment. Win in week 18 and finish 10-7, and secure one of three AFC wild-card playoff spots.
No help is required.
And next week is at Jacksonville. The Jaguars are a league-worst 2-14, and that was reinforced with a 50-10 loss at New England.
But a quick reminder: the Colts are 5-7 in their last 12 meetings with the Jaguars and haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014. It took a strip-sack of rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence by DeForest Buckner and Dayo Odeyingbo with a minute remaining in week 10 to secure a 23-17 win over the Jaguars.
Since then, the Jaguars are 0-7 and have been outscored 214-77.
“No givens next week,” Reich insisted. “We know Jacksonville is good, despite . . . I saw the score flash.’’
Patriots 50, Jaguars 10.
“We know when we go to Jacksonville, it’s a battle,’’ Reich said. “So we got to have a great week of preparation and I’m sure it’ll be a tough fought game next week.
“We got to go earn it.’’
This is precisely what the Colts failed to do Sunday.
They had scratched and clawed and made the right plays at the right times to overcome a 1-4 start that had them on the doorstep of the postseason. They found a way to win eight times in 10 games. They got there with the proverbial offense/defense/special teams collaboration.
Against the Raiders, it also was a collaborative effort.
“They out-played us and out-coached us in all three phases,’’ Reich conceded.
Offense: There were a few good moments. Jonathan Taylor notched his 10th 100-yard game of the season (108 on 20 carries) and broke Edgerrin James’ single-season rushing record (1,734 yards and counting), and Michael Pittman Jr. posted his first 1,000-yard receiving season (1,018).
But they were dwarfed by overall failure on third down (3-of-11), a few untimely penalties – holding flags on left tackle Matt Pryor and right tackle Braden Smith contributed to promising drives settling for Michael Badgley field goals – or an off-target quarterback.
After not practicing all week while being quarantined – everyone insisted the lack of practice reps wasn’t a factor, so we’ll take them at their word – Wentz was simply off: 16-of-27, 148 yards and a fluky 45-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton.
There was no bigger miss by Wentz than early in the fourth quarter with the Colts looking to add to their 17-13 lead. On third-and-7 from his own 23, Wentz overthrew Hilton – badly overthrew him – who was running by himself down the left sideline. It might not have been a 77-yard touchdown, but it might have.
“Definitely want it back,’’ Wentz said. “It was definitely blown coverage. They kind of passed it off and then they miscommunicated and he was wide open.
“That one hurts a little bit.’’
As for the lack of execution on third down, consider Wentz was 3-for-9 for 16 yards. He was sacked once and moved the chains once with a 7-yard run.
“I wasn’t very good on third down,’’ he said. “A lot of things that I want back personally.’’
Defense: It kept things winnable until it couldn’t. Through three quarters, the Raiders had managed just 204 yards on 46 snaps. Derek Carr had led a TD drive to open the game (Josh Jacobs’ 2-yard run) and two others that resulted in 47- and 44-yard Daniel Carlson field goals.
But the defense countered with interceptions from Darius Leonard and Isaiah Rodgers and two sacks of Carr.
With everything on the line, it was all Raiders. Two fourth-quarter drives resulted in Carr’s 11-yard TD to Hunter Renfrow and Carlson’s game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired. Carlson’s third and deciding field goal was set up by Carr’s feathery 24-yard hookup with Renfrow on third-and-10 from the Indy 48.
Make a stop, and the offense gets one last shot. Instead, Carr’s pass just eluded Kenny Moore II and found Renfrow.
“I just think we didn’t do enough on third down,’’ Leonard said. “Some of the things that we did, didn’t work.
“We didn’t do a great job of getting off the field.’’
Special teams: Badgley kept cleaning up messes, but that was one of the few bright spots for a unit that’s been a season-long strength.
Punter/kickoff specialist Rigoberto Sanchez had two solo tackles, but that’s not a positive. He had to limit the damage on Renfrow’s 41-yard punt return and Tyron Johnson’s 34-yard kickoff return.
Collectively, it wasn’t nearly enough, especially considering the circumstances.
“Really disappointed that we didn’t do what we had to do to take care of business in front of our home fans and clinch a spot in the playoffs,’’ Reich said. “Feel like we let the fans down there.
“We didn’t quite run it as well as we wanted to run it and we didn’t quite stop the run as much as we wanted to stop it. We didn’t quite play as well on special teams.
“That starts with me as the head coach. I have to get our guys ready to play and I didn’t do that today. What it comes down to is making one better call on offense, defense or special teams, or making one play on offense, defense or special teams somewhere along the line to put us in position to win that game.’’
Failing that, there’s always next week.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.