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The Colts’ season ended a year ago against the Jaguars. Publicly, the team survived a brunt of the criticism by positing themselves as a fleeced buyer of Carson Wentz Inc. They were not shy about perpetuating that narrative as they entered their bunker to find another veteran rental quarterback. Privately, head coach Frank Reich spent the team’s final day in the facility asking coaches and players what he could do better personally to ensure something like this never happened again, perhaps aware that it was more than just his quarterback’s problem.
If we thought the pivot to Matt Ryan was a panacea, we are two games into a rude awakening in Indianapolis, where the Colts were throttled by the Jaguars in a game lowlighted by three Ryan interceptions. For the second consecutive week, a Colts team we universally believed to be a deep playoff contender at worst, has underperformed against one of the worst teams in their division. As the fourth quarter began on Sunday, the Colts had fewer than 150 total yards and just six first downs. In a three-drive span during the first quarter, the Colts netted a single yard of offense. On one of their few legitimate whifs at the end zone, Ryan was whipped to the ground on third down, and forced to wander outside the pocket on fourth down, lofting a pass that was hopelessly batted down at the back line of the end zone.
One of the best players in the league, Jonathan Taylor, was a non-factor, touching the ball just 10 times. In a league where Justin Jefferson remains able to get consistent touches, having a playmaker with this little to do on Sunday is beyond head-scratching. A defense that was ahead of the curve a year ago was getting stomped by the remnants of the Urban Meyer bonfire.
We have gone in waves with this Colts franchise since the beginning of the Frank Reich and Chris Ballard regime. We started out admiring Reich for taking a job that Josh McDaniels abandoned. We felt miserable for them after Andrew Luck decided, due in part to the sins of a previous staff, that he no longer wanted to play football. We felt invigorated, as folks around the league praised the holistic roster building approach that was supposed to keep the Colts relevant. We shrugged our shoulders and waved off all the struggles of the team under a cattle call of veteran quarterbacks.
We were collectively emboldened by the move from Wentz to Ryan.
Now? It may be time to wonder how close the Colts really were (or are still on track to become) what we eventually believed they would be. Sure, there is talent. Sure, there is a division ripe for the taking. Sure, there may have been a sound process that led us to this point of unanswered expectations, but what happens when you’re getting pummeled by the Jaguars with 15 minutes to play? What happens when you tie the Texans the week before and bottom out of the playoffs before that?
The Colts may end up being the perfect example of a team that was buoyed by legitimate excuse making. This can happen sometimes in the NFL. While some coaches don’t get the benefit of the doubt under similarly horrid circumstances caused largely by the incompetence of former shot-callers, we looked at the Colts post-McDaniels, post-Luck, post-everything and let them be. They were a team whose struggles were understandable.
But we are now four years removed from Luck deciding he was finished with the NFL. In that same time span, we have seen complete franchise rebirths with fewer raw materials to start. We have seen rebirths and deaths. Four years is a lifetime in the NFL.
And while we are not advocating for any kind of regime change, it’s fair to request a more stringent look at what is happening with the Colts and whether they’re headed in the right direction. It is fair to request an end to their grace period, to start criticizing the Colts as we would any franchise that blew a chance at the playoffs and began their season with two inexplicable performances. For goodness sakes, we are starting to criticize Bill Belichick and the Patriots after going a few seasons without producing another dynasty.
Minus that grace period, that understanding that the Colts have been doing The Right Thing all along, what are they, save for a few stellar individual performances that kept us off their scent? We’re about to find out.
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