INDIANAPOLIS – In the aftermath of a crushing loss that for so long appeared to be a defining victory against a quality team in a hostile environment, Carson Wentz stood in front of his teammates in the locker room and stated the obvious.
His Indianapolis Colts had just witnessed a 19-point lead with 18 minutes to play and a 16-point cushion with 12 minutes remaining at Baltimore’s stunned M&T Bank Stadium fade, fade, fade away.
Monday night, Wentz & Company saw the Indianapolis-version of the Colts lose for the first time after holding a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. They had been – wait for it – 120-0. The last time the Colts squandered at least a 16-point fourth-quarter lead was their final loss as the Baltimore version: Dec. 11, 1983 at Denver (a 19-0 lead disintegrated into a 21-19 loss).
Yes, this was a rarity and very difficult to swallow: Baltimore Ravens 31, Indianapolis Colts 25 in overtime.
It was an overtime that could have been – should have been – avoided.
Instead of heading into next Sunday’s meeting with the Houston Texans at 2-3 and with decided momentum, the Colts must dig out of a 1-4 hole and try to remain relevant in the AFC South.
Coach Frank Reich always selects a player to break down the team after delivering his own post-season message. This time, he looked to Wentz, who passed for a career-high 402 yards and a pair of long-distance touchdowns.
“Just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have that killer instinct,’’’ Wentz shared in his post-game press conference. “That goes for me, goes for all of us. We’ve got to be able to finish games and put teams away when we’ve got ‘em on the ropes like that.’’
Like at 22-3 at the 3:06 mark of the third quarter after Jonathan Taylor followed guard Mark Glowinski into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
Or like at 25-9 with 12 minutes remaining in the game after Rodrigo Blankenship, who suffered a hip injury during pregame warm-ups that proved so costly in the second half, was able to convert a 43-yard field goal.
At that point, somebody needed to make a play – or a few plays – to keep the chains moving on offense and keep Lamar Jackson harmlessly on the Baltimore sideline, or defensively slow down what became an unstoppable Jackson in the second half and overtime.
“They kept fighting and they made plays,’’ Reich said. “We’ve talked about this as a team all year long. In that fourth quarter, we’ve got to make plays. That’s as coaches and players. We’ve got to make the right calls and we’ve got to make the plays in the fourth quarter.
“They made a lot of plays and we didn’t make enough.’’
There were more plays to be made by the Wentz-led offense, but let’s be honest. It did a ton. It finished with 513 total yards, its highest yield since week 3 of 2014 at Jacksonville (529).
Wentz set career highs with 402 yards, a 128.5 rating and 11.49 yards per attempt. He flipped a screen pass to Taylor on the fourth play of the game and Taylor followed perimeter blocks by Zach Pascal and Ashton Dulin for a 76-yard TD. And he added a 42-yard TD to Michael Pittman Jr., who shrugged off an interfering Anthony Averett and pulled cornerback Marlon Humphrey into the end zone with him.
The offense left a few plays on the field – we’ll get to that in a bit – but it did more than enough to pull the upset.
The same can’t be said for the defense and kicking game.
Listen to All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, who finished with a team-best and season-high 13 tackles and fumble recovery. This loss, he insisted, was his worst as a pro.
“This sucks,’’ he said. “It is very frustrating. Just giving your all and coming up short. That’s the part that really hurts the most.
“It was a game that I felt like we should have won. We had a chance to win the ballgame and we didn’t do enough defensively, especially in the second half. When the game was on the line, the defense didn’t step up. That was really heartbreaking . . . you don’t step up and win the game for the Colts’ organization.
“As a defender, that sucks.’’
Defensively, Monday night followed the same blueprint as the Colts-Ravens meeting in week 9 last season in Indy. Leonard and the defense kept Jackson and the Ravens in check in the first half. Baltimore trailed 10-3 – it was 10-7 in 2020 – and was limited to 148 total yards, and 80 came on a field-goal drive late in the second quarter. The Ravens were 0-for-5 on third-down conversions.
Then, all hell broke loose.
Consider the Ravens’ five possessions after halftime: a lost fumble at the Indy 1, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. The length of the drives: 88, 75, 78, 75, and 68 yards.
The dagger was a 10-play, 68-yard drive in OT that ended with Jackson’s 5-yard dart to Hollywood Brown.
Jackson did whatever he wanted and feasted on a Colts’ secondary that opened the game without starter Rock Ya-Sin (inactive with an ankle injury) and saw his sidekick, Xavier Rhodes, exit with a possible concussion early in the fourth quarter.
Coordinator Matt Eberflus had to turn to Isaiah Rodgers and Anthony Chesley as his outside corners.
After halftime, Jackson benefitted from a non-existent Colts’ pass rush and played pitch-and-catch with his receivers: 25-of-32, 335 and two touchdowns each to Brown (43 yards and the 5-yard game-winner) and tight end Mark Andrews (5 and 4 yards).
Jackson also added a pair of required 2-point conversion passes to Andrews on the final two fourth-quarter TD drives.
The Colts never solved the Andrews dilemma: 11 receptions on 13 targets for 147 yards and the two TDs.
Leonard refused to admit the Colts lacked the ability to apply the “kill shot’’ against the Ravens.
“I’m not going to say that,’’ he said. “We’ve just got to find a way to get the job done.’’
And that brings us back to Wentz and an offense that flashed its true potential against the Ravens. But as much as they got done, they needed to do more.
Reich wanted a mulligan on one particular play.
Leading 25-17 and situated first-and-10 at the Baltimore 17 with 6 minutes to play, Reich kept leaning on what had been an effective ground game. The idea was to gain yards and get in position for a makeable field goal for his ailing placekicker, but more importantly force the Ravens to spend their timeouts, which they did twice.
But after Taylor gained 3 yards for a third-and-8 at the 15, Reich dialed up Taylor again. He was stonewalled for a loss of 4.
On fourth down, Blankenship had his 37-yard field-goal attempt batted down by defensive tackle Calais Campbell.
“In hindsight,’’ Reich said, “it wasn’t the right call. “Since it didn’t work, do I wish I would have called a pass? Probably.’’
Given how well Wentz was playing, he added, “I should have said, ‘Let’s go for the jugular. Let’s throw it in the end zone.’’’
His concern was the Ravens getting to Wentz for a sack, or something worse.
“I felt good about the opportunity to gain some yards and get a kick,’’ Reich said.
And that brings us to the kicking.
The blocked field goal aside, Blankenship’s hip injury contributed to him pulling a PAT wide left following Pittman’s 42-yard TD and doing the same with a 47-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of regulation.
“Not a fun loss,’’ Wentz said. “For us to come out swinging the way we did . . . we just can’t let up. We can’t let up. We’ve got to finish games better.’’
Everyone was “feeling good’’ with the 25-9 lead early in the fourth quarter,’’ he added. “We were confident in where we were, but that’s why I say we’ve got to finish ballgames better.
“We can never relax. We can never rest in those moments and that’s in all three phases. That’s everybody.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.