Colts Bye Offers Too Much Time to Think

The Indianapolis Colts’ weekend off meant watching other teams play and gaining more perspective on this season.
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INDIANAPOLIS — Seattle somehow blows a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead as well as a second overtime chance to score in falling from the ranks of the NFL unbeaten late Sunday night at Arizona?

This league, and especially oddsmakers, sure do thrive off the unpredictable. Yeah, OK, no such thing as a sure thing. We get reminded of that each week.

As the Indianapolis Colts chilled out with a bye week, I did the same in watching other teams. All that did was remind of the obvious. You watch these games for most of your life, including more than two decades when paid to provide perspective, and perhaps it’s just too much time to let the mind wander.

Here’s what resonated on Monday morning after hours of reflection.

Gaining Ground While Idle

The Colts (4-2) actually benefited from not playing as the other three AFC South Division teams lost. That was to be expected with the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, who are both now 1-6. The Titans were quite impressive in rallying from a 20-point deficit to be in a position to force overtime, but Stephen Gostkowski pushed a field goal wide right and the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated a 27-24 road win in Nashville.

The Steelers (6-0) stand alone as the NFL’s last unbeaten team while the Titans (5-1) have only a one-game division lead on the Colts.

But make no mistake, regardless of that outcome, the Titans are the class of the AFC South unless the Colts can prove otherwise in the next month or so.

Keeping a constant eye on Twitter provided a highlight that shows how far the two-time defending division champion Texans have fallen. J.J. Watt made a third-down stop in short yardage while trailing by 18 points at home to Green Bay, and the Texans star didn’t have any kind of reaction in just walking off the field. Even the best players can be resigned to their dismal fate.

Lions Aren’t A Gimme

The Colts travel to the Motor City on Sunday to face a Detroit Lions (3-3) team that rallied to a 23-22 win at Atlanta as Matthew Stafford threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson on the final play.

That means there’s buzz about the Lions being NFC playoff contenders, although they easily could have lost to a 1-6 Falcons team that has proven they can blow leads against anyone.

Yeah, the Colts opened as slight road favorites. They should be rested and ready after their time off. They should be able to take care of business against the flawed Lions to get to 5-2 for a second consecutive year.

But remember the Cardinals beating the Seahawks, something they hadn’t done at home since 2012. And it’s worth mentioning that the Lions beat the Cardinals in the desert this season.

Then you think about how these Colts lost their season opener at Jacksonville, which has allowed more than 30 points in six consecutive losses since. Forget the rationalization that it was only a first game and the Colts needed time to come together after no preseason. This pandemic-altered routine was the same for every team. It’s still one of the worst losses in recent memory, and it looks even worse today.

That’s why anyone thinking the Lions will be a pushover could be in for a rude awakening come Sunday. The Colts should win, sure. But quarterback Philip Rivers should have won at Detroit last year, when he was with the Chargers and for some stupid reason decided to force a deep ball into double coverage late, when trailing by three points and in field-goal position for a kick to force overtime. The ill-advised pass was intercepted. Game over.

If you’re a Colts fan, you’re sure hoping history doesn’t repeat itself when Rivers returns to Ford Field this time.

Tough Stretch Begins

Much has been made of how the Colts’ schedule becomes downright difficult from here on out. And that’s worth repeating.

The combined record of the Colts opponents so far is 13-27-1. Four of those teams are a combined 3-24-1.

The combined record of the Colts opponents the rest of the way is 35-28. After the Lions, the Colts host Baltimore, are at the Titans on a Thursday night, host Green Bay, and host the Titans. That’s four consecutive games against legitimate playoff teams who are 5-1.

If the Colts can survive that stretch, there’s also a Week 16 road trip to Heinz Field to face the Steelers.

The sobering observation is quite simple: the Colts must play significantly better than they have to make the playoffs, which hasn’t been accomplished in four of the past five years.

It’s not that all is doom and gloom. This roster is improved, especially on defense with defensive tackle DeForest Buckner being every bit as impressive as anticipated. The special teams have been exceptional.

But the Rivers-led offense has struggled on third down and in the red zone. The wide-receiver group has been thinned by injuries once again, and T.Y. Hilton looks like an aging star who can’t put up the big numbers of his four-time Pro Bowl days to earn a new lucrative contract.

The offensive line’s pass protection has been outstanding, especially for an immobile quarterback, but defensive coordinators have figured out the key to stopping the Colts in loading up the box to limit the rushing yards as well as Rivers dumping off short passes to running backs.

The Colts are 28th in rushing yards per game and 32nd in rushing yards per carry. “Run The Damn Ball” won’t work unless something changes in the passing game. Rivers has seven TD passes and six INTs. He's being paid $25 million to play at a higher level.

Yeah, nobody likes a Debbie Downer, especially on a Monday morning.

The good news is, barring any setbacks due to COVID-19, there won’t be any more byes to think too much about the big picture.

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is phillipbwilson24@yahoo.com.)