INDIANAPOLIS – Leave it to Baltimore to give the Colts a loss this franchise hasn’t seen since they called Maryland home.
Leading by 19 points late in the third quarter on Monday night, and still by 16 with 10 minutes to go, the Colts fell apart, losing 31-25 in overtime to the Ravens.
What did we learn from the Colts closing out this 5-game stretch at 1-4?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Historic Collapse: Whenever they make a list of the most crushing regular season losses in Colts franchise history, this one will be on that list. Leading 22-3 with less than a minute to play in the third quarter, the Colts melted to the finish line. Up until that point, Frank Reich’s team had played one of the finest games of his tenure. But then it all fell apart, in historical fashion. Per ESPN, the Colts had won 120 straight games when leading by at least 16 points in the fourth quarter. Their last loss after holding such a lead was actually the team’s second to last game in Baltimore…in 1983. Monday night was supposed to be a measuring stick for a Colts team that has proven far too often lately that they can’t beat/finish against playoff teams. And the end result Monday was the same old, same old. The Colts have now lost 7 straight games to playoff teams. Injuries have been a storyline for the Colts this season, but they’ve played an even bigger one for the Ravens. And Baltimore is 4-1 through all that and the Colts are 1-4. Just before Monday’s kick, Jim Irsay retweeted Reggie Wayne’s tweet that said “No excuses. Get it done!” Well, now off to a 1-4 start, the Colts are a flawed and mediocre football team that will need something hovering around a miracle to get back into playoff consideration.
2. Defense Folds: For a second straight meeting with the Ravens, the Colts put together one of their finest defensive performances, for long, long stretches. But then it all disintegrated on that side of the ball. Far too often in the Matt Eberflus era, we’ve seen the Colts give up non-resistant scores in the 4th quarter. The Indy defense did it last week to Miami, but still held on to win that one. Against the Ravens though, playing with fire led to the defense getting burned this time. The pass rush was (once again) missing. The back end, with depth being exposed at corner and safety, looked confused in whatever coverage was being played. And Lamar Jackson, who entered Sunday ranked 26th in the NFL in completing 60.5 percent of his passes, finished 37-of-43 (86 percent) for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns. At what point will the defensive accountability stop being ignored by the Colts decision makers? Despite gobs of draft capital invested all across the unit, the pass defense remains a constant issue. Schematically, Eberflus’ defense is often referred to as one of the simplest ones to prepare for each week, and that shows with the continued efficiency opposing QBs dial up against Indy. Blame to Chris Ballard, the constructor of said defense and the man who wanted this scheme. Blame to Eberflus, for not having answers, annually, when this problem has persisted. And blame to Frank Reich for not stepping in as the head coach to demand culpability on that side of the ball.
3. Hot Rod Suffers Hip Injury: In warmups on Monday night, placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship suffered a hip injury that certainly impacted the loss. Hot Rod, who said he had ‘stabbing pain’ in his kicking leg every time he would swing, hooked an extra point, had one field goal blocked and missed another game-winning attempt to the left. At one point, thinking Hot Rod’s range was around 45 yards, the Colts had punter Rigoberto Sanchez lined up ready to attempt a 42-yarder (with the hold from Nyheim Hines) before a Ravens offsides penalty shortened the attempt, in which Blankenship came on and made. With both teams chasing points in the second half, Hot Rod’s health should have been a huge factor. Despite knowing how limited his kicker was, Reich decided to play it conservative, something the head coach regretted after the loss, on a 3rd-and-8 call with 5:19 to go, running it with Jonathan Taylor. The Colts lost 4 yards on the play and Blankenship then had his 37-yarder blocked by 6-8 Calais Campbell. If this sounds like 2019 again with Adam Vinatieri, I’m sorry. But the Colts mismanaged their kicker scenario on Monday, deciding not to play it more aggressive and go for the game-clinching touchdown, but rather hoping that an injured kicker, with ‘stabbing pain,’ could deliver on more than one occasion. In total, Blankenship missed/had blocked kicks from 33 (PAT), 37 (blocked) and 47 (game winner missed left) yards out on Monday.
4. So Good For So Long Monday: At 1-4, it will get lost just how superior the Colts were on Monday night, for more than two-thirds of the game. Honestly, it was one of the more impressive efforts under Reich. But when you are in such desperate need of a ‘W’ it’s the end result that has to take on the major chunk of weight. We still should mention though some really notable performances from Jonathan Taylor (18 touches for 169 yards, including a 76-yard screen pass for a TD), Michael Pittman (6 catches for 89 yards, including a highlight-reel 42-yard TD), Darius Leonard (playing through injury to lead the Colts with 13 tackles and a fumble recovery). Carson Wentz was 25-of-35 for 402 yards and 2 TDs. While Wentz did a whole lot of good on Monday, his pre-snap identifications weren’t at the consistent level the Colts needed against a creative Ravens defense. Still, the Colts moved it consistently all night long, but cap this one. Again, for about all of three quarters, the Colts played like a team that had circled this one on the calendar. But when you have the record the Colts do right now, moral victories don’t mean much.
5. How Do You Respond?: For the umpteenth time, give thanks the Colts play in the AFC South. Even with that the Colts (1-4) are still 2 games behind the division-leading Titans (3-2) right now, having lost the first meeting this year. The second one is on Halloween in Indy. That’s a must win. Period. For the Colts to get back into any sort of reasonable playoff chatter it’s time to beat the bottom-feeders. In the next 5 games, the Colts could see rookie quarterbacks in 4 of those matchups, with the Titans game sandwiched in there. That’s doable, on paper. But the margin for error is razor thin. And you have to wonder how the Colts will respond from a loss that Darius Leonard called the most heartbreaking of his 4 years in the NFL. A short week awaits the Colts, and the biggest stretch of Frank Reich’s coaching career is here, too.
-Injury Report: Xavier Rhodes left the game in the 4th quarter and did not return. The team’s inactives were as followed: OT-Braden Smith (foot), DE-Kwity Paye (hamstring), CB-Rock Ya-Sin (ankle), RB-Jordan Wilkins (illness), DE-Isaac Rochell (illness) QB-Jacob Eason, DT-Khalil Davis.
-Key Stat: Per ESPN, there have been 4,017 games in NFL history with a player throwing for at least 400 yards. Lamar Jackson now has the highest completion percentage ever in such a game, at 86 percent.
-What’s Next: The Colts (1-4) will return to Lucas Oil Stadium next week to take on rookie QB-Davis Mills and the Texans (1-4). It’ll be a 1:00 PM kickoff in Week Six.