Which Excuse Matters Most In Colts' Demise?
Phillip B. Wilson
A long time ago, a sign in the Indianapolis Colts locker room offered a succinct perspective on how players should approach their work: “No excuses, no explanations.”
Problem is, the 2019 Colts started out with an obvious excuse, then kept adding more. Take your pick as to the reason why the Colts have lost four of five to fade to 6-6 and on the brink of being mathematically eliminated from AFC playoff contention.
Is it: 1.) Quarterback Andrew Luck retired; 2.) Too many injuries to key offensive players; 3.) Kicker Adam Vinatieri having the worst season of his legendary career; 4.) Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett isn’t good enough to carry an offense, especially when missing key pieces.
When Luck unexpectedly retired in August, prognosticators understandably dropped the Colts from playoff contender to a team that might not even finish at .500. It’s not unlike what critics used to say about the Peyton Manning era Colts, how it would be an average team without the franchise quarterback.
After the Colts self-destructed in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 31-17 home loss to the Tennessee Titans, a scan of fan comments in social media included a few that blamed Luck’s departure.
Truth be told, I didn’t think the Colts were going to finish 8-8 this season without No. 12. I wasn’t sold on Brissett and thought the drop-off in production at the most important NFL position would be too much to overcome.
But when the Colts started 5-2, despite not having Luck, encountering injuries and watching Vinatieri miss field goals and extra points, there was every indication that head coach Frank Reich’s team had the character and resiliency to make the playoffs.
So in my book, scratch the Luck excuse. Yes, they would have been better if he stuck around, was healthy and playing like a four-time Pro Bowl star — no doubt in my mind they would have won more of the close ones, the first 10 games being decided by one score.
A stronger argument can be made that injuries subtracting leading rusher Marlon Mack, Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and several other weapons including tight end Eric Ebron, wide receiver Devin Funchess and rookie pass catcher Parris Campbell proved to be too much to overcome. Seriously, the Colts are now 1-8 without Hilton in the lineup since he arrived in 2012, as strong an indication as any of what he means to this team.
That said, there’s no excuse for losing at home to the Miami Dolphins 16-12 in Week 10. Yes, Brissett was hurt and quarterback Brian Hoyer couldn’t have been more awful, but that’s one you just can’t let slip away.
Which brings us to Vinatieri, who after Sunday’s three field-goal failures including two blocked brings his career-worst season total to 14 misses, which includes six extra points. The fourth-quarter miss from 46 yards out that was blocked and returned 63 yards for a go-ahead touchdown wasn’t on him — the Titans rusher came untouched inside and practically swallowed the ball.
But the other two misses were on him. The previous blocked kick from 53 yards out came out way too low, and while he got a good leg into a 55-yarder earlier, it fluttered wide right. In his defense, the Colts shouldn’t be counting on field goals of 50-plus yards anyway, but no matter, he’s paid to make them and in the past he usually did.
The miss that stands out the most, at least for me, was the extra point against Miami. Had he made that PAT, the Colts would have needed just a short field goal at the end to force overtime. But they had to go for a touchdown and Ebron inexplicably came up a coupe of yards short on a fourth-down completion inside the 20.
While Vinatieri also missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in the final minute at Pittsburgh — when holder Rigoberto Sanchez had the laces facing the kicker — as well as three kicks in a season-opening overtime loss at the Los Angeles Chargers that loomed large later on, at some point the failures become an undeniable excuse.
How many times have you thought this: The Colts would have won if Vinatieri …
Which brings us back to Brissett, who initially was doing just enough to give the Colts a chance to win, but lately has been struggling to stay the least. He holds the ball too long. He fails to spot open targets. He’s often too afraid to take chances down the field. When he finally did against Tennessee, he made two terribly, ill-advised overthrows that were intercepted.
Admittedly, Colts nation has been spoiled at quarterback by having Manning and Luck. Brissett’s inconsistent play is more the norm when a backup is thrust into the starring role and counted upon to perform up to expectations that to be fair are unrealistic. He’s not Luck, but the way he was heaped with praise early on, it’s as if many thought he could be as good as the man he succeeded. Not a chance.
So we’re left with a 6-6 team that must win out to have any chance of making the playoffs, which probably isn’t going to happen with a Monday night game at New Orleans (10-2) in two weeks. Drew Brees and friends are trying to lock down the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, so don’t expect the Saints to have an off day.
It sounds like Hilton might not make it back this season and Reich confirmed that Funchess won’t be brought back from injured reserve because his surgically repaired broken collarbone hasn’t healed as expected. Funchess proved to be an expensive misadventure that cost $10 million for one game which translated to three catches for 32 yards.
Pardon the pun, but those are the breaks. The health of a team is never certain. The NFL grind is as much about attrition as it is execution. Lose enough key players and we see the result.
Any way you look at it, we’ll write this Colts season off for one if not all of the aforementioned excuses. As much as that might pain some people, each are too obvious to ignore.