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Colts’ Collapse vs. Jaguars Requires Soul Searching from Top to Bottom

As the franchise reels from choking away the season, all must accept blame for the Colts catastrophic ending to 2021.

There’s no way to put this nicely, and quite frankly, it probably shouldn’t be put nicely.

The Indianapolis Colts’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday has to rank as one of, if not the, worst losses in franchise history.

A playoff berth was in their sights. All the Colts had to do was go into Jacksonville and beat the lowly Jags, who before the game had a 2-14 record with their eyes set on the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Instead, they allowed the Jaguars to dominate them in every facet of the game to the tune of a 26-11 embarrassment.

Say goodbye to the playoffs.

“Never expected to be sitting here, having this moment right now, not like this,” head coach Frank Reich lamented after the game.

The Colts had climbed from a 1-4 start to win eight of their last 10 games. At 9-6 after a Christmas Day win over the Arizona Cardinals, while down seven starters at that, Indy was a team nobody wanted to face come playoff time. Thanks to a flat performance against the Las Vegas Raiders and a pathetic showing in Jacksonville, nobody will have to face them.

“It's very devastating, man,” wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “Especially knowing the week we had leading up. I mean, we were locked in. We were focused man. It just – (the Jaguars) were better than us again down here.”

The loss is also the Colts’ eighth straight in Jacksonville. While the Jags have experienced losing season after losing, the Colts cannot seem to beat them away from Lucas Oil Stadium.

So, what’s next for this Colts franchise? Where do they go from here after such a brutal end to the season?

This one falls on everyone. From the top on down, front office to the last players on the roster, all played a part in the collapse.

Jacksonville Jaguars middle linebacker Damien Wilson (54) forces a fumble during a sack on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) which the Jaguars recovered during early third quarter action. The Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida for the Jaguars final game of the season Sunday, January 9, 2022. The Jaguars finished out their season with a 26 to 11 victory over the Colts. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union] Jki 010922 Bsjaguarsvscolt 14

Let’s start with general manager Chris Ballard. Ballard opted to let proven pass rushers Justin Houston and Denico Autry walk in free agency for rookies, and the pass rush suffered because of it. Ballard failed to bring in a left tackle that could protect the quarterback’s blindside, as Eric Fisher struggled all season. A lack of elite weapons at the wide receiver position also hurt this team down the stretch.

Reich certainly deserves some of the blame. It’s become a bad trend that his teams do not get off to particularly hot starts to begin the year, causing the Colts to climb out of the 1-4 hole. His play-calling also became quite vanilla towards the end of the year, and a dynamic offense became very one-dimensional.

“We fought and scratched and clawed to get it back in our hands,” he said. “And then last two weeks of the season, we did what we did. Starts with me as the head coach. And we've got to figure out how we can close this season out the right way; how we can coach better, how we can play better. You know, we had the opportunity by control of our own destiny and just didn't get it done.”

More needs to be seen from the coordinators and assistant coaches. Too many of the issues that plagued this Colts team all year from a position standpoint were never corrected. No separation in the passing game, lack of pass rush, and soft defenses are some of the issues that most certainly need to be addressed moving forward.

And now to the most polarizing person on the team, quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz wasn’t good enough to end the year, plain and simple. Outside of a game-winning drive against the Cardinals, the last four games of the season were bad for Wentz.

“It sucks, honestly, you know, walking off kind of in disbelief,” Wentz said dejectedly. “It's hard to fully reflect on everything right now. It all happened so fast. But just even thinking back just to where we came from, (we) dug ourselves out of a hole. You know, we were in control of our destiny. And then the last two weeks just didn't get it done. It hurts right now. A lot of reflection to come over the next handful of days, unfortunately. But, yeah, it's not a good feeling right now.”

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Wentz was 17-of-29 (58.6%) for 185 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and a lost fumble against the Jags. Now the questions will swirl all offseason on whether or not Wentz can be the long-term answer at quarterback, with many already proclaiming no.

The wide receiving core desperately needs an upgrade. Outside of Michael Pittman Jr., no Colts wide receiver had more than 384 receiving yards. The Colts were the only team in the league to not have at least two players over 400 yards receiving. More talent is needed to boost this passing offense.

The offensive line played maybe their worst game of the year yesterday. Wentz was sacked six times. Pro Bowlers Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly were shaky at best. Fisher was benched during the middle of the game, and it’s safe to say, will not be back next season. The Colts put too much money and resources into the offensive line for a performance like that. And the question of who is the long-term solution at left tackle still goes unsolved.

Jan 9, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Ryquell Armstead (23) breaks a tackle from Indianapolis Colts middle linebacker Bobby Okereke (58) in the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

“When we can't get the run game going, I think teams understand who we are,” Kelly said after the game. “We're run emphasis first and we have to be better in the pass game. But, yeah, I don't know. I wouldn't say they were bringing a lot of blitzes or anything like that. So, yeah. (I am) kind of speechless, to be honest with you.”

Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, the unit that led the league in forced turnovers for much of the season couldn’t generate a single turnover against the worst team in the league. They allowed a Jaguars team that had only scored above 20 points twice all season to score the most points they had all year.

“Disappointment,” Darius Leonard said, head down. “You know, just coming out having everything in front of you. Everybody's just disappointed. (We) didn't do enough. That's what it always just comes down to. Defensively, just didn't do enough, just disappointed at that. (We) didn't find a way to take the ball away, didn't find a way to get off the field.

“It just sucks.”

Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence had all day to throw as a disappointing pass rush could never get pressure. Jaguars’ wide receivers ran free throughout the secondary and converted time and time again. Anything they wanted to do offensively, the Colts defense obliged.

This loss and collapse are not on one particular person. The Colts collectively gave away the season. Coaches, players, and the front office all had a role in this, and all need to take the blame.

The Colts are a team that constantly talks about having a good culture, and with that comes accountability. There is no excuse for what happened, and the entire organization knows that. It is now up to the team to respond and make sure this doesn’t happen again

This offseason for the Colts is going to be an interesting one. With holes throughout the roster, questions (still) surrounding the future at quarterback, and no first-round pick, the Colts will need to be creative in how they fix this and get better.

Colts owner Jim Irsay is a patient owner, but he’s also one that doesn’t stand for losing. He’s expecting a winner, and the clock is ticking for the Colts to reach that status.

While seats aren’t hot yet, they very well could become that way if this continues.

Have thoughts on the Colts' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and their collapse to miss the playoffs? Drop a line in the comments below and let us know what you think!

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