If the Indianapolis Colts would have done this or that.
The “ifs” sum up why their season ended Saturday with a 27-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills in an AFC Wild Card game at Bills Stadium.
The seventh-seeded Colts (11-6) had their chances to avoid being one-and-done. But the second-seeded Bills (14-3) converted more of their opportunities to win a home postseason game for the first time since 1995.
After falling behind by 14 points in the final quarter, the Colts rallied on a Philip Rivers 27-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle, then the duo hooked up for a two-point conversion to make the final 6 minutes interesting.
But the Bills held on.
The Colts had enough time to drive to at least a tying field goal, but were unable to get into position and a Hail Mary pass was incomplete as time expired.
It summed up how the Colts came close, but couldn’t finish.
"Tough loss," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "I was not anticipating the end of the year winding up today."
The Colts went awry in so many little ways. But all of those little things inevitably added up.
"I thought our players played well, they played hard," Reich said. "We just lost a tough game to a good team in playoff football."
Just a few minutes earlier, the Colts had a chance at a game-changing turnover. Denico Autry sacked Bills quarterback Josh Allen, the football came loose and was bouncing free with 2:58 remaining. But the Bills recovered.
Another telling sequence came in a pivotal second quarter. The Colts led 10-7 and were looking at third-and-goal at the Bills’ 1 to extend the lead. Running back Jonathan Taylor took a pitch and was swarmed for a 3-yard loss.
Instead of settling for a field goal, Colts head coach Frank Reich went for the score from the 4 and Philip Rivers’ fourth-down pass was too far for Michael Pittman Jr. in the end zone.
Had the Colts kicked the field goal there, well, you get the point.
Then the Bills drove to a go-ahead touchdown, thanks to Colts defensive end Kemoko Turay jumping offside on a fourth-and-3 play at the Colts’ 26. It was the kind of stupid mistake that losing teams lament. Allen finished off the drive with a 5-yard TD run.
"None of us graded out 100 percent," Reich said. "We all made mistakes. In a game this close, it's too much the easy way out for us to point to one thing."
The fact that the Colts trailed 14-10 at halftime despite playing well for much of the first two quarters summed up this inconsistent season. They’ve been impressive at times, but unable to sustain that excellence in so many key moments against the best competition.
Allen threw two touchdown passes, including a 35-yard strike to Stefon Diggs for a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Taylor had his moments with 75 yards rushing on 20 carries with one TD. But he also dropped two short passes.
As Colts head coach Frank Reich predicted during the week, this game came down to doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. It was all about the little things that didn’t pan out, which included his decision to go for it on fourth down as well as going for two points after scoring a touchdown to reduce the deficit to 24-16. Taylor got stuffed on that run, too.
Colts rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 33-yard field goal off the right upright in the third quarter with the visitors trailing 17-10. It’s the fifth time he’s missed a kick that bounced off the upright this season.
So the Colts enter the offseason with numerous questions about how the franchise will move forward. Will they re-sign Rivers and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, among others? What positions will general manager Chris Ballard look to bolster in free agency and the NFL draft?
When they look back at 2020, the Colts will accentuate positives. But they will also think about what might have been.