INDIANAPOLIS – The biggest game of the season was also the craziest game of the season.
And it was the Titans overcoming a two-touchdown deficit, beating the Colts in overtime, 34-31 inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
What did we learn from the Colts (3-5) losing the season series to the Titans (6-2)?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Cannot Measure Up Against The Elite: Untimely penalties, a lack of a killer instinct, crippling under pressure—whatever you want to call it, the Colts cannot beat the league’s elite teams. Look around the NFL, with parity all over the league, you see below average teams find wins like this. Not the Colts over the past year. They’ve now lost 8 straight games against playoff teams (from last season). In that span, the Colts have won 7 games, against teams with a combined record of 42 games under .500 (entering Sunday). Early on in the Frank Reich era, the Colts found ways to sprinkle in wins against the upper echelon teams. That’s not the case anymore. And it’s why the Colts enter November needing gobs of help to get into the playoffs. Look at the Titans as they sit No. 1 overall in the AFC. They’ve rattled off monumental wins over the Bills, Chiefs and now Colts in consecutive weeks, despite a slew of injuries. Some teams rise when the pressure is ramped up. That’s not the Colts. They continue to wilt in such situations and that has them in NFL purgatory.
2. Carson Wentz Chokes Late: There’s no other way to describe Carson Wentz on Sunday in such monumental moments. The Colts, and Wentz, hadn’t really been in a moment like this in quite some time. Fair or unfair, quarterbacks get critiqued more intensely in such situations. And Wentz failed, on two separate occasions, Sunday. The first came with 90 seconds remaining when Wentz succumbed to pressure and decided to throw a left-handed pass into a heap of Titans despite the pressure right at his feet early in the play. That resulted in a pick six. After the game, Frank Reich took full blame for the awful decision to call the screen pass, even with the Colts backed up. While Wentz’s deep ball willingness helped the Colts get to OT on the next drive, he had one more massive mistake left in him. On a 1st-and-10 on the second possession of overtime, with the Colts just needing a field goal for the win, Wentz forced the ball into double coverage to Michael Pittman, with Titans safety Kevin Byard reading the QB the whole way and making the interception, which the Titans then converted into the game-winning field goal. Wentz flashed his arm talent on Sunday, but he also mis-fired in several big moments. This is the unanswered question for Wentz—can he deliver on bigger stages? Playing against one of the most injured cornerback groups in the NFL, Wentz finished Sunday with an ugly 4.5 yards per pass attempt and completed 52.9 percent of his passes. Remember after the 49ers game, how we mentioned Wentz got away with so many ‘turnover worthy’ plays and just because of that we shouldn’t sweep those under the rug. Sunday’s performance is why. Wentz has done a ton of good in his first year with the Colts, but how he finished Sunday is why he remains a big step away from those higher tiers of QBs. That’s reality.
3. Where Was Jonathan Taylor Late? The onus of this defeat was on Carson Wentz. Still, Frank Reich did his QB little to no favors in using Jonathan Taylor down the stretch. Taylor had 1 carry in overtime, despite the Colts having 7 total plays in OT. Facing a banged-up Titans front, and the Colts having their OL intact for the first time all season, Reich abandoned the team’s best player for a second straight meeting against the Titans. It’s malpractice to not use Taylor more. He finished the game with 16 carries for 70 yards (4.4 YPC), but yet wasn’t involved in the game’s most precious moments. Instead, it was left to the right arm of Wentz to try and make all the plays. When the Colts traded for Wentz, they promised the QB less on his plate and leaning on Taylor was a massive part in all of that. Yet, in both contests against the Titans this year, Reich has gone away from one of the league’s best runners. On Sunday, Wentz finished with 51 pass attempts and Taylor ended the game with 16 carries. It makes no sense.
4. Did The Job Against Derrick Henry: The first job on the blueprint in facing the Tennessee Titans is stopping Derrick Henry. The Colts did an outstanding job in that on Sunday. With Grover Stewart setting the tone in the middle, the Colts controlled the line of scrimmage, holding Henry to just 68 yards on 28 carries. The goal for Indy on Sunday was to keep Henry under 3.7 yards per carry. Well, they held him to an astonishingly low 2.4 YPC. Now, the Colts defense had its typical pass defense issues on Sunday. But when facing the league’s best running back, they should be commended for getting that part accomplished. Henry did look a bit hobbled but credit the Colts for continually hitting him and limiting his yards after contract. In two meetings against Henry this year, the Colts allowed just 3.2 yards per carry. It’s little solace on a day like Sunday, but it’s something that needs to be noted, especially after the previous year’s struggles against (the created player) Henry.
5. Division Drought Likely To Continue: With this loss, the Titans have struck a major blow to the Colts continuing drought of winning the AFC South. Tennessee (6-2) is now 3 games up in the standings on the Colts (3-5), and that is pretty much 4 games with the head-to-head tiebreaker clinched by the Titans. Entering this season, the No. 1 goal for the Colts was to win their first division title since 2014. Now, with the month of November not even here yet, that goal won’t be achieved unless a miracle occurs. And the Titans have the easier schedule in the second half of the season compared to the Colts. For the Colts to make the playoffs, the likely route is going to have to be as one of those three Wild Card spots. Sunday’s result was a 30 percent difference in playoff chances for the Colts, so this loss is a crippling setback. Externally, talk will grow now on if the Colts should sit Carson Wentz at some point in the season to try and save that first-round pick. Internally, the Colts will try to ignore that, hope/pray they can go 7-2 the rest of the way (with games still against the Bills, Bucs and Cardinals) and get enough help to sneak into the postseason.
-Injury Report: Tyquan Lewis (knee) got hurt in the second quarter and did not return. Khari Willis (calf) left the game in the second quarter and did not return. T.Y. Hilton (concussion) left the game in the 4th quarter and did not return. The team’s inactives were as followed: CB-BoPete Keyes (hamstring), QB-Sam Ehlinger, WR-Mike Strachan, DE-Ben Banogu, OT-Julie’n Davenport, OL-Will Fries, DE-Isaac Rochell.
-Key Stat: Carson Wentz did set a Colts franchise record with the most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (203).
–What’s Next: The Colts (3-5) are now on short week mode. They will host the Jets (2-5) on Thursday Night Football inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.