INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Most of the players have scattered. They’ll use the bye week to get away from it all and recover from the physical pains and mental anguish that accompany a season that has the Indianapolis Colts headed to the top portion of the 2018 NFL draft, not back to the postseason.
The reality is this bunch hasn’t been good enough, consistent enough, efficient enough. The end result will be missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time since a seven-year drought (1988-94) that predates Peyton Manning and goes back to the Jim Harbaugh, Jeff George, Jack Trudeau, Chris Chandler, Gary Hogeboom years.
First-time general manager Chris Ballard spoke of patience as he began addressing a deficit roster in February. He discarded the old, brought in the new. He realized this wasn’t a one-year renovation, but a multi-year project.
But even Ballard couldn’t have seen this coming, even with the uncertainty surrounding Andrew Luck. Not 3-7. Not the maddening inability to close games. Not scoring only two touchdowns and being outscored 110-28 in the fourth quarter. The Colts have held a fourth-quarter lead seven times. They’ve faded and lost four times, and nearly lost a fifth when they squandered a 23-9 lead before escaping the San Francisco 49ers in overtime.
Since being embarrassed by Jacksonville 27-0 last month at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts have played well enough – but not long enough – against Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two fourth-quarter leads. Two more losses. They played long enough – to the final second – and won at Houston.
Despite significant personnel losses, the defense is playing at a winnable level. After allowing a ridiculous 426.6 yards and scores on 46 percent of drives (20 touchdowns and 17 field goals on 81 opposing possessions) during the first seven games, the defense has gotten its act together. Over the last three, opponents are averaging 293.3 yards and have scored on 24 percent of their drives (five TDs, three field goals on 33).
It had a last-second answer at Houston, but not against the Steelers.
The offense continues to show flashes, but lacks staying power. Jacoby Brissett’s 61-yard TD pass to Chester Rogers on the first possession of the third quarter gave the offense 243 yards and the Colts a 17-3 lead, but then the offense went into a shell. Over the final 23-plus minutes and five possessions, it was limited to 24 yards on 20 snaps.
There was the continued inability to protect Brissett, who finished the game but was diagnosed with a concussion in the locker room afterwards. There were the usual debilitating penalties and yet another crippling turnover.
So they’re 3-7, which has the Colts entrenched in the basement of the AFC South and currently perched on the No. 4 slot in next April’s draft.
From the Football Gospel according to Bill Parcels: You are what your record says you are.
Too often, they simply haven’t been good enough. Occasionally, they’ve been just good enough to get beat.
They find a way. The Colts have allowed an NFL-high 39 sacks. They’re a league-worst minus-20 in allowing sacks and creating them. They rank in the top half of the league with 67 penalties, but no team has more than their 18 false starts.
And then there’s this telling stat that reinforces the Colts’ inability to finish what they start: their 82-point deficit in the fourth quarter is the widest in the NFL. The New York Jets are next, having been outscored by 59 (96-37). They’ve scored two fourth-quarter TDs, and one came in the opener against the Los Angeles Rams when they trailed 37-3.
Chuck Pagano found himself reading from the same tattered script Monday.
“Until we figure out a way to eliminate foolish penalties in critical situations and a costly turnover, those kind of things, we’re going to be talking the same old thing week-in and week-out,’’ he said. “Obviously the bye week comes at a good time. Good chance to heal up, reset, reboot and get ready for these last six ball games.’’
The extra week before returning for the Nov. 26 home game with Tennessee should give Brissett time to go through the NFL’s concussion protocol. The team is optimistic linebacker John Simon, who’s missed the last three games with stinger, returns. It also expects safety Clayton Geathers, who’s been on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing March neck surgery, and tight end Erik Swoope, who’s been on the injured reserve list after undergoing knee surgery in the preseason, to be added to the active roster.
To this point, nothing’s been easy.
Asked about that, Pagano smiled.
“Life is hard. Ball is hard. This profession is hard,’’ he said. “You do it for moments. We haven’t had a whole bunch of those (tough seasons). We’ve had a lot of success. That’s how it goes.
“Some years are like this. It makes you better if you don’t quit, if you don’t give in. If you learn lessons – and you’ve got to learn – you’ve got to grow. You’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to be able to look at it and say, ‘Okay, this is why.’ Point it out and say, ‘This is why this is happening, so let’s fix this, this and this.’ You keep going, you keep going, you keep going.’’