INDIANAPOLIS – There probably wasn’t a reason to point out the elephant in the room because, well, an elephant is rather difficult to ignore.
In this instance, the elephant lounging at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center was the Indianapolis Colts’ perplexing and frustrating 0-fer in road games against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Can’t miss it. Oh-for-6. Five in Jacksonville, one in London.
It hasn’t mattered whether Gardner Minshew, Cody Kessler or Blake Bortles was the opposing quarterback. Or whether Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Andrew Luck or Matt Hasselbeck was running the Colts’ offense.
It hasn’t mattered the overall competency of the Jaguars. They whipped the Rivers-led Colts 27-20 in the 2020 opener only to finish 1-15 that morphed into a 20-game losing streak.
Since week 17 of ’19, the Jaguars are 2-2 against the Colts – both wins on home turf, of course – and 2-27 against the rest of the NFL.
So here we are. The final week of the longest regular season in NFL history and the 9-7 Colts need a victory to secure their third playoff berth in four seasons under Frank Reich.
“Win and we’re in. Lose and we’re out,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Bucker said Wednesday, slicing to the bottom line. “The guys know what’s at stake is our season.’’
At Jacksonville, of course.
“It’s just fitting, you know what I mean?’’ Buckner said. “Going down, division game, in Jacksonville. The place that we’ve been struggling the past couple of years to get a win.
“What better time than now?’’
Just in case a relatively-young roster was unaware of the elephant that’s gotten comfortable on the Colts’ collective back – only T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle have been around for all five disappointments at Jacksonville – Reich pointed it out during Wednesday’s team meeting.
“I don’t want to overstate it, but the facts are the facts,’’ he said. “I think it was important to note. I think we’ve got to dial in and have a great week of practice.
“We have a great deal of respect for this team. We know we’re going to get their ‘A’ game and so we’ve got to make sure we bring ours.’’
Safety Khari Willis has only been around for the last two stumbles in Jacksonville – he was inactive for the 38-20 loss in week 17 of ’19 – but like virtually everyone else on the roster, he’s fully aware of The Drought.
Everyone’s aware the Colts have yet to win in Jacksonville since Reich settled in as head coach in ’18.
“It’s not something we go around talking about all day in our meetings, but it is something we acknowledge,’’ he said. “Like, ‘Yo, let’s remember we haven’t won down there versus them.’ So regardless what their record has been, it’s been a while since our organization has won.
“That’s a big deal for us and I’m pretty sure it’s a big deal for them. It’s the elephant in the room. We address it and we prepare. We accept the challenge. You take it personally.’’
The Jaguars, Willis added, are “going to try to spoil our season.’’
The Colts could have secured one of the three AFC wild-card spots last Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, but fell 23-20. They were flat and lacked consistency, particularly on offense.
Linebacker Darius Leonard mentioned on Wednesday night’s episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ that the team – at least the defense – went through a practice last week that “wasn’t up to our standards, everybody should know that.
“All that (expletive) today that was going on in practice, we’ve gotta understand we’re better than that. . . . It’s on us to be great in practice.’’
Early in that practice, Reich halted things and called everyone up.
“I’d say we had the one day that started off on the wrong foot,’’ he said. “Had too many mental errors on both sides of the ball; very uncharacteristic. I don’t do that very often, call the guys up. I don’t like to overreact to things.
“I just felt it was a unique week with unique circumstances. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. We just came up as a team and said, ‘We’ve got to be better than this. Let’s get it together and wake up and have a good practice. And I think we did after that. The rest of the week, the practice was solid. Maybe not our absolute best, but I thought it was solid.’’
However, practice didn’t seem to carry over to the game.
That can’t happen again. Not with absolutely everything on the line.
That win-or-else mentality already seems to be having the desired results. Buckner sensed it as practice commenced Wednesday.
“The guys have been doing a good job of answering the call and I can just feel it today, even walkthroughs today,’’ he said. “The attention to detail, the intensity.’’
At some level, players also are motivated by the reality that an otherwise up-trending season comes to a sudden end if a Jacksonville bunch that’s lost eight straight and was routed 50-10 by New England finds a way to extend its home dominance Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.
“That’s definitely not the right way to approach the game,’’ Buckner said, quickly adding, “obviously you think about it. You’re human.
“Everything that we’ve done to overcome adversity this season – starting off 0-3, 1-4 – we knew what our end goal was and nobody wavered. Everybody put their head down and kept working.
“It all leads to this moment.’’
Along with addressing the long drought at Jacksonville at the Wednesday meeting, Reich also continued to lean on his season-long analogy of climbing Mount Everest. It’s a long, grueling trek, one with obstacles along the way.
“This part of the season, we’re in the dead zone,’’ Buckner said, sharing Reich’s message. “There’s zero margin of error. He wanted guys to feel that.
“The majority of the season, we’ve been playing with our backs against the wall and that’s kind of how it is right now.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.