INDIANAPOLIS – With so much swirling around them and so much – well, everything – on the line in week 17, the Indianapolis Colts must keep one objective front and center.
Listen to quarterback Philip Rivers shortly after the Colts relinquished control of their playoff aspirations with Sunday’s 28-24 loss at Pittsburgh.
“Whatever happens, they all include us winning,’’ he said. “So we gotta make sure we take care of our business.’’
And listen to coach Frank Reich who had 24 hours to digest what he described as a “nightmare’’ experience against the Steelers. You know, squandering a 24-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
“Obviously we need help. We need one of these teams to lose,’’ he said during a Monday Zoom conference call. “But it all is a moot point if we don’t win, and the way for us to win is for us to put our energy into preparing and beating Jacksonville.
“I know they don’t have a good record, but we’ve got a lot of respect for this team. We have not always played well against this team.’’
Exhibit A: the 27-20 loss in the season opener in Jacksonville. That remains the Jaguars’ only win. They bring a franchise-record 14-game losing streak into Lucas Oil Stadium and the not-so-minor consolation prize of having secured the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft, which means Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
But that’s a topic for another day.
Monday was about Reich and the Colts physically and psychologically dealing with blowing a 17-point lead in Pittsburgh with so much on the line and quickly getting into bounce-back mode in what the franchise hopes is a win-and-in scenario in its rematch with the Jaguars.
Everyone knows what’s at stake – just the second playoff appearance in the past six seasons – and what it’s going to take to get there. Either:
- a loss by Baltimore at Cincinnati, Miami at Buffalo or Cleveland at home against Pittsburgh. That, plus a win over Jacksonville, brings a wild-card berth. All three games have 1 p.m. kickoffs, so the Colts will know if a wild-card spot still is available when they kickoff against the Jaguars at 4:25 p.m.
- a loss by the Tennessee Titans in Houston. That, again coupled with a win over the Jaguars, brings the AFC South title and a first-round home playoff game to Indy.
This isn’t the first time Reich has found himself in this type of to-the-wire situation.
Anyone remember week 17 of 2018? It was Reich’s first year as the Colts’ head coach, and they faced a win-and-in scenario in the 256th and final game of the regular season against the Titans in Nashville. Each team entered with 9-6 records, and only the 10-6 survivor would earn the final wild-card spot.
The Colts won 33-17 and advanced.
This is different, though. Winning won’t be enough. Indy needs help, and everyone knows it.
Reich’s message to the players: pay attention to what’s going on around you – they would regardless any pleas to the contrary – but don’t become obsessed with scoreboard watching.
That was part of his address to the team the night before the Steelers game: watch the Dolphins-Raiders game Saturday night and the Titans-Green Bay Packers game Sunday night. Both were must-see TV considering how the outcomes would impact the Colts’ fortunes.
But don’t get too invested in the outcome.
“We’re going to watch it. We care,’’ Reich said. “We know what we want to happen, but don’t get wrapped up in it. Don’t get yourself emotionally invested in it.’’
As week 17 unfolds Sunday, it would be futile to instruct the players not to pay attention to what’s going on elsewhere.
Reich’s career as a player and coach includes nine years as a top-tier backup quarterback with the Buffalo Bills.
“I’ll definitely be a Bills fan this weekend, that’s for sure,’’ he said with a smile.
Aside from that, everyone’s attention must be on the Jaguars and posting the franchise’s first 11-5 record since 2014.
“You’ve got to stay focused,’’ Reich said. “Again, you’ve got to minimize the energy you’re using on those other games. You’re going to have some; it’s inevitable.’’
His approach will be to talk about the circumstances with the team early in the week, then have tunnel-vision on Jackonsville.
One twist is Reich already has had conversations with general manager Chris Ballard on how best to handle the Titans-Texans game Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Do they show updates from Houston as the Colts-Jaguars game unfolds?
“‘Do you want players looking up there during the game scoreboard-watching, as they say?’’’ Reich said. “Those are all questions that we’ll address this week.’’
Safety Khari Willis and rookie wideout Michael Pittman Jr. are in the NFL’s concussion protocol after suffering head trauma against the Steelers.
Reich was unable to provide an update on left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee/ankle) and right tackle Braden Smith (reserve/COVID-19 list). Their status will be monitored during the week.
Castonzo suffered the ankle injury in last Thursday’s practice, a week after defensive tackle DeForest Buckner suffered an ankle injury in practice. Buckner was able to play three days later against the Texans, but Castonzo wasn’t as fortunate.
Castonzo’s injury occurred during a half-speed drill while Buckner’s happened when everyone was going full speed.
“There is just a philosophy that we just have to practice hard on Thursdays,’’ Reich said, adding the practice injuries, “just come with the game. I just believe you can’t give up practicing hard. It’s too important.
“The best teams I’ve ever been on – and I’ve been on a lot of good ones – all practice hard. You might limit the number of reps you go hard to take care of the guys that way, but the ones you’re full speed, you’ve got to go full speed.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.