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INDIANAPOLIS – That nemesis Tom Brady did it again to the Colts, and Indianapolis certainly helped the Hall of Fame quarterback win his 7th straight game vs. his former rival.

In committing 5 turnovers, the Colts could not hold onto another double-digit lead, falling 38-31 to the defending Super Bowl champs.

What did we learn from the Colts (6-6) ending the month of November falling back to .500?

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

1. Can’t String It Together: In a season full of trying to move up the ladder, the Colts couldn’t take another step on Sunday. The question now becomes can the Colts string together wins against playoff teams. For much of Sunday’s 60 minutes, the Colts looked like the better team against the defending Super Bowl champs. But unlike the rest of this season, the turnover game (-3 in the turnover margin) and penalty game (Colts had 22 more penalty yards) finally went against Frank Reich’s team. For a moment on Sunday, there was a definite thought the Colts could get back into the AFC South race with the battered Titans (8-4) losing another one. But that magic number for the Titans and clinching the division is 3 (combined wins/losses by the Titans/Colts) with 5 weeks remaining. A win on Sunday would have given the Colts a bit of a leash entering December. That didn’t happen though, and now the Colts will likely need to win 4 of their final 5 to have a shot at the postseason. On one end of things, it’s wildly impressive the Colts have built a double-digit lead in 9 straight games. But in blowing 3 of those leads, coupled with starting the year 0-3, the Colts still face a steep climb to try and get into the playoffs, and be a threat.

2. Two Fatal Players Errors: You are not going to find a full-on blow torch of Frank Reich and his usage of Jonathan Taylor here. Yes, that was (again) head-scratching, but let’s not act like the Colts had other, more important, back-breaking moments on Sunday. The first one was a strip/sack allowed by Eric Fisher with the Colts marching towards a three-score lead in the third quarter. On a 1st-and-10 from the Tampa 20-yard line, Bucs DE-Shaq Barrett, who roasted Fisher religiously on Sunday, did his best Robert Mathis impression from the blind side, and it gave Tampa some much-needed life. It was such a massive play by Barrett, and the Bucs cashed that in with a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 24-21. The second play that really stands out was Nyheim Hines muffing a punt following Indy’s only forced punt of the final three quarters. With 12:36 to go in the game, Hines fumbled a punt inside the Indy 20-yard line, which the Bucs turned into a field goal, stretching the visiting lead back to 31-24. This was part of a stretch in which the Bucs scored 17 straight points. You can get away with a muffed punt against the Dolphins/Jacoby Brissett (which Hines had in Week 4), you can’t against the Bucs/Tom Brady. It’s ok to blame players, too. And these plays by Fisher and Hines are at the top of the list of why the Colts didn’t finish this one on Sunday.

3. Yes, The Colts Forgot About Jonathan Taylor: Again, before I get to Frank Reich, I’m pointing to these plays above that really cost the Colts. Now, as far as Reich and the offense, let’s start with the good. And that was 24 first-half points, despite Jonathan Taylor having just 25 yards on 8 carries in the first half. Carson Wentz had arguably his best half of the year in Sunday’s first 30 minutes. The passing offense overcame some up and down moments from Michael Pittman and a struggling Zach Pascal, too. In the third quarter though, the Colts hit a stretch of 26 straight drop-backs by Carson Wentz. That’s an astonishing number. Now, a chunk of that came from a two-minute drill to end the first half. And Wentz passed out of several run/pass option plays, seeing a loaded Tampa box. The Colts still moved the ball well in this stretch, but turnovers ended both third-quarter drives (the Barrett strip/sack and Carson Wentz under throwing Michael Pittman for an INT on a deep ball), which aided the Bucs getting back into this game. For me, the large issue in this span was Taylor touching the ball just 2 times in a 26-minute stretch. A Taylor touch is high percentage—aka a turnover is very unlikely—and it gives your best player the football against a defense that is stout, but also banged up and coming off a short week. This is your most dynamic playmaker who showed in the 4th quarter what he can do—when he had 8 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown to tie the score at 31—touching the ball just twice during a stretch that spanned nearly half the game. With how Taylor is playing right now, he needs ‘forced touches’ where the ball is getting into his hands, even if the defensive look isn’t definitely in your favor. Let’s see if your good can beat their good as the attrition of a game moves along. Over the course of 60 minutes, like we saw in the final quarter, a defense that is stifling in the first quarter doesn’t necessarily mean it will be as dominant in the second half. Bigger picture though with Reich, it is extremely concerning his Colts have now blown 3 double-digit leads this season. I get all those losses have come against quality opponents, but the inability to put teams away is a trait this team lacks.

4. Defense Can’t Get Must-Have Stop: When you see the Colts allowed 38 points, that usually tells a story that the Indy defense got torched. That’s a bit misleading, although there were some defensive problems at various points on Sunday. Allowing 5.3 yards per carry (142 yards on 27 carries) is not something we are used to at all from this defense. The Colts had zero answers down the middle of the field for Rob Gronkowski (7 catches for 123 yards). And on the game’s most important drive, Tom Brady went a perfect 5-of-5, with the Bucs running it 4 times for 50 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Yes, it’s Brady and the top-scoring offense in the NFL, but the Colts showed zero resistance on this drive, with Tampa not even being forced into a third down, as they had 5 first downs on the 8-play drive. When you face the league’s elite, it’s moments like these that the unit has to be able to be at a better standard than Sunday.

5. Near Perfect Finish Needed: Backing off the ledge for a second, going 1-1 in this two-week Bills/Bucs stretch with the win being over Buffalo, and not Tampa Bay, was the most realistic/best scenario for Indianapolis. And that is what happened. Now, obviously Sunday stings. Really stings. That’s what happens when you blow a double-digit lead for a third time this season (with two of those being double-digit leads in the second half). This is how the final 6 weeks looks for the Colts: at Texans, bye, Patriots, at Cardinals, Raiders, Jaguars. You’ve got to go 4-1 or else you are going to need gobs and gobs of scenarios to fall your way in order to make the postseason. And the ones you really need in this finish are the AFC games, especially the Patriots and Raiders. In a week in which you saw two other AFC Wild Card teams in the Raiders and Bills go on the road and beat NFC teams, the Colts could not do that at home. Again, Sunday had a bit of a ‘house money’ feel to it for the Colts, but in losing, now the pressure is back on with the margin for error razor thin entering December.

 

QUICK HITTERS

-Injury Report: The Colts had zero injuries on Sunday. The team’s inactives were as followed: RB-Marlon Mack, OT-Julie’n Davenport, OL-Will Fries, WR-Mike Strachan, DE-Ben Bangou.

-Key Stat: The Colts entered Sunday with 10 committed turnovers on the year. They had 5 giveaways against the Bucs and lost the turnover margin by 3, the biggest margin all year.

-What’s Next: The Colts (6-6) will have one more game before their bye, heading to Houston next Sunday afternoon to complete that season series with the Texans (2-9).