Sickening. Pitiful. Heartbreaking.
The Colts overtime loss to the Ravens was all those things. Any night, losing after leading 22-3 with 18 minutes left in regulation would be galling. At 1-3 on the road with playoff hopes on the line, it’s the kind of result that ends careers, a season, and devalues a meticulously built culture.
Quarterback Carson Wentz played arguably the best game of his career, and the defense held the Ravens to fewer than 100 yards on the ground for the first time in 44 games. Cornerbacks were hurt, the defense went soft, and Frank Reich trusted kicker Roberto Blankenship over his hand-picked QB and the very efficient offense that put his Colts in a position to win in the first place.
Every season, Colts fans indulge in Super Bowl dreams, but they likely sailed wide left as Blankenship’s game-winning field goal attempt to end regulation did the same. According to Sports Betting Dime, the reigning champion Bucs have moved into the favorite spot as Super Bowl odds-on favorite (+500), and the Colts have now dropped into a group with the Miami Dolphins (+10000) – the only team the Colts have vanquished this season.
It’s worth remembering that the Colts found a way to rebound from an even more horrific 1-5 start to earn a 2018 playoff berth and actually win a wild card round game in Reich’s first season. This year, such a turnaround seems a very long field goal try given the remaining schedule includes games at Buffalo, against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs, and in Glendale against the suddenly excellent Arizona Cardinals. Unless the Colts can win one of those three, the ceiling for the season record is 10-7, which seems the minimum likely to win a competitively compromised AFC South.
Furious fans want Blankenship waived, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus fired, and general manager Chris Ballard held accountable for a roster full of flaws. The biggest question mark entering the season was whether Carson Wentz could bounce back to play at the level needed to lift the Colts toward another postseason. Despite foot surgery, two ankle sprains, and a five-day Covid quarantine, Wentz has been plenty good – posting a triple digit passer rating in three games.
The defense has suffered a spate of injuries at corner, safety, and defensive end. That didn’t help Eberflus’s bend/don’t break shell zone as it allowed the Ravens to score touchdowns on its final four possessions. Sure, if Blankenship makes a kick, fans would (mostly) forget the Colts being gouged by a suddenly comfortable Lamar Jackson, but the collapse certainly underscored the flaws of the scheme and personnel.
With 12 games left in the season, the Colts aren’t dead as far as a playoff berth, but the chances of earning one took a major blow in the loss to the Ravens. The Colts showed what they are capable of on the offensive side of the ball, but also what they are incapable of doing on the other side of the ball.
As the schedule theoretically eases, the Colts need to embrace the urgency that a 1-4 start mandates. It’s not likely this season ends with a meaningful victory, but on Octorber 12th, it is way too early to call the rest of the 2021 season meaningless. Sometimes you need to search for the meaning, but in the NFL it is never too hard to find.
That will either make the rest of the season a fun march into winter, or a difficult debacle that will require roster and staff responses to change the competitive dynamic of a team that once held such promise.