INDIANAPOLIS — The proverbial NFL clock doesn’t afford much time for teams to call it a season and say good-bye.
Less than 24 hours after Saturday’s 27-24 AFC Wild Card Playoff loss at Buffalo, the Indianapolis Colts packed up their locker contents and prepared to enter the offseason after what they considered a premature postseason end to a promising 11-win season.
Third-year head coach Frank Reich expressed his love and appreciation for the players and their efforts. Then he shared some of those parting thoughts with the media in a video call later Sunday afternoon.
“We’re bunch of crazy men and women here,” he said, “because we’re going on this journey, we’re getting ourselves ready for this journey every year where there’s 32 teams and only one is going to end up satisfied.
“The rest of us are going to be disappointed. So we’re disappointed and hurt. Make no mistake about it, we've got one goal, and that's to win a world championship. And then after that, it’s to win more. By not reaching our goal, it doesn’t mean we didn’t gain anything. It doesn’t mean we didn’t grow. I believe that we did. And it will help us as we begin that journey next year.”
The loss is still too fresh in many respects, which makes it impossible for Reich to look into a crystal ball and be certain of what happens next in the offseason.
He admitted a lengthy conversation with 17th-year quarterback Philip Rivers was emotional, and told the media he would like to have the 39-year-old passer return for 2021. But both understand it’s a business, and that’s a matter to be resolved at a later time.
So, too, is knowing whether the Colts need a new offensive left tackle. Tenth-year pro Anthony Castonzo missed the last two games due to season-ending ankle surgery. He has one more year on his contract, but perhaps the 32-year-old leader on the O-line decides to retire. Reich conceded that the Colts have discussed the possibility of moving three-time, All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson to that position. But, again, it’s too early to speak in absolutes.
It’s too early for anything but acknowledging each other one final time before walking out of the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and heading in separate ways, knowing the roster will change and some bonds won’t remain.
“Difficult loss,” Reich said. “It’s going to sting. Every loss stings, but particularly a postseason playoff loss stings worse. You’re at the top of the mountain. You’re at the final summit to the top. You’ve made the terrain of some of the most difficult things, getting through a long and grueling season, you put yourself in position to be one of the 14 teams that had a chance to get to the top.
“We believed we had the team to do that. We believed we could do that. We believed we had the coaches and players to do that.”
The seventh-seeded Colts (11-6) were 6.5-point underdogs against the second-seeded Bills, but had the edge in total yards with a season-high 472, dominated time of possession by more than 8 minutes, and didn’t have a turnover.
The Bills (14-3) prevailed behind quarterback Josh Allen throwing two touchdown passes and running for another score. And the Bills advanced because of a defense that limited the Colts to just two scores in five trips inside the red zone. Too many times, including late in the second quarter when Reich’s team reached the Bills’ 1, the Colts came up empty.
As Rivers said after the game, it wasn’t that the Colts were outmatched. They just made more mistakes than the Bills.
Reich mentioned how he has been to six Super Bowls as a player and coach, having won a ring as Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator in 2018. It’s that experience in knowing what the playoff journey requires that convinced him his 2020 Colts were of Super Bowl-caliber.
“I believe this locker room is full of good football players, guys who work hard and they love the process,” Reich said. “But then there needs to be a special chemistry, a closeness, and a bond. I know this team has that.
“And then you’ve got to have guys where it’s not too big for ‘em … and believe that and see that, and see the big picture and have that belief that you can make it to the top.”