Welcome to the hangover. The Colts (1-4) fall to the Ravens (4-1) in overtime, 31-25. I’m Indianapolis Monthly editor-in-chief Michael Rubino, and I’m joined by Nate Miller and Derek Schultz to talk about what might have been the weirdest Monday Night Football appearance for Indy since October 1988 when the Hoosier Dome crowd donned disturbing Halloween masks of Dan Dierdorf and the rest of the broadcast crew before Eric Dickerson went off on the Broncos.
SCHULTZ: This was about as crushing of a regular-season loss as I can remember for the Colts. Outside of fumbling away the division title via December home game losses to Houston, led by Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler (this actually happened!), in back-to-back years, I can’t think of anything worse. They absolutely dominated that game for three quarters and were everything you thought the 2021 Colts could be at their peak. Jonathan Taylor was an ACTUAL rolling ball of butcher knives! Michael Pittman was making highlight-reel catches! The defense was bending but absolutely not breaking! Carson Wentz was effective and mistake-free! It was all working and fun and hopeful and YELL SCREAM GO HORSE … until it turned into a face-stabbing defeat.
MILLER: ESPN’s opening segment for the game tainted everything that came after, possibly forever, like a hemorrhagic stroke. To set the scene, a group of Ravens fans were fake-arguing with a group of Colts fans in the Baltimore streets. So far, so good. The table is set nicely for Hologram Omar to come address this nonsense once and for all. NOPE! Instead, some nerd emerges from the drumline and delivers the worst sports speech of all time, arguing that we are all children of the same Horseshoe or some such nonsense. “Chill! CHILL!!” he pleads with the throng of beefing theater kids, who were THISSS close to dance-fighting and/or snapping to the beat all menacingly.
“We are all branches of the same tree!” he exclaims. “Tonight, it’s all love!”
From there, a Jars of Clay music video breaks out, a choreographed love-fest complete with the DJ spinning Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” My soul exited my body like a reverse gunshot wound. It was Ziggy Sobotka’s storyline, except a thousand times worse. It was an ominous sign for sure.
RUBINO: That open was a grave disservice to television. I guess everyone has moved beyond the Mayflower moving van incident except ESPN. Respect to Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, but, as far as the “rivalry” between Indy and Baltimore goes, the producers could have mined more recent history to come up with a more compelling opening. I hated the outcome, but this overtime game was in that tradition. To put things in The Wire parlance, the Colts got got.
MILLER: It was maybe the coolest Colts game in a decade for the first 45 minutes. Then it wasn’t. Then it quickly became its authentic self—it became what it was ALWAYS going to be in the end—like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, or Jon Gruden regressing into Canceled Jon Gruden with his own Outkick radio show. It became its own truth. It became disappointment. This game fashioned a prison shiv out of our giddy hopefulness and then stabbed us in the face with it, just as the Blueddha foretold. So that’s the bad part.
The good part? It was a really cool game, minus the face-stabbing! There was all kinds of fun, crazy shit happening to justify the inevitable despair. There was Jonathan Taylor becoming Marshall Faulk Jr., Parris Campbell not leaving the game with, like, sepsis (“His return is questionable, Steve”), and the Colts defense almost scoring a 95-yard fumble recovery like a drunk college kid would do it playing Madden. There was Michael Pittman going all Randy Moss, Rodrigo Blankenship going all HE STOLE MY FRUIT ROLLUP! while splayed out on the four square court, pouting(?), and the realization that the Colts have a player named BoPete Keyes. My God. “BoPete Keyes” is poetry. BoPete Keyes is the blind bassist from every 1950s jazz band, which isn’t ideal in 3rd-and-long situations, but so be it. BoPete Keyes is INTERESTING at least, and this Colts team is too. Losing and being boring is no way to go through life, son. Losing and being zany is a different story. It makes the suffering worthwhile, almost.
RUBINO: I want to come back to the Gruden news for a bit. When that dropped in the first half (he was fired or resigned or whatever because of ugly and hateful comments he made in emails over a period that spanned years), it sucked the oxygen out of everything for me as a viewer. By the fourth quarter, the game re-took center stage and we got that wild ending, but we’re ultimately going to remember this night for the Gruden thing. I haven’t completely processed it yet, but it feels like there are other shoes yet to drop. This was a watershed event.
SCHULTZ: I have nothing to add about the Gruden fiasco. His ouster is justified and his comments are completely unsurprising. I’ll actually be surprised if more of this type of stuff doesn’t surface with other NFL coaches and executives. When all of these emails were unearthed, what I immediately thought of was how the Colts reportedly recruited Gruden to be their head coach after the 2016 season. We never got full clarity into how serious things got, but we know Jim Irsay at least talked to Gruden at some point (he never publicly admitted to offering the job or anything like that). There was also a juicy rumor that Irsay’s jet flew down to Houston in an effort to recruit Gruden to coach and Peyton Manning to run the team, but who knows if that was anything more than a couple people on Twitter getting sloppy drunk and hopping on Flight Tracker (always fun!). Regardless, even with the 2015–present Colts being what they’ve been, things could always be worse and the franchise dodged a major bullet, filled with sunk cost and national embarrassment, by not landing Gruden as head coach. Frank Reich could mismanage 10 million red zone possessions in a row, but at least he doesn’t appear to be that guy.
RUBINO: By all accounts, Reich does seem like a good person, but I think we knew that. Now, we’re going to find out if he’s a good coach.
SCHULTZ: I do not think the season is over. The Colts margin for error is now zero, but they have five straight winnable games here to get right, four of them against teams possibly starting rookie QBs: Texans (Davis Mills), 49ers (Trey Lance, if he’s healthy enough to play), Jets (a 16-year-old Utahn), and Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence). You have to win them all. At that point, Colts would be 6-4 and, at worst, one game out of the AFC South with the head-to-head tiebreaker (a win over the Titans) out of play. Yes, that would require *actually winning games*, but if Indy can get anywhere close to where they were in the first three quarters last night in Baltimore, they can absolutely still go on a run.