Courtesy of bnpositive, Flickr
This fall, the magazine will recap each week of the Colts’ strange, pandemic-hobbled season. This week: digital editor Derek Robertson, along with contributors Derek Schultz and Nate Miller look at a tough loss against the Baltimore Ravens, where the Colts looked haplessly, frustratingly stuck in neutral.
Derek Robertson: How much is, uh… 50 percent of a great game worth? After bottling up Lamar Jackson for an entire half, no small feat, the Colts went down in flames in the third and fourth quarters after a questionable Rivers interception definitively swung this thing the other way. The Colts ran *four plays* in the third quarter. Four plays! And still, Rivers threw a total of 43 passes, far fewer and far less efficient than Lamar’s 19/23. I don’t think any of us expected Rivers to out-QB the reigning MVP, but after seeing the Colts manage the game to perfection (aside from a bad Jonathan Taylor fumble, the rookie’s first) in the first half, it was hard not to be disappointed that they didn’t make it more of a game—especially when you consider that the Colts actually had more than 70 total yards than the somewhat wan-looking Ravens.
If there’s one thing I’m taking away from this game, it’s that this Colts team can hang with the upper tier of the conference. And yet, they have absolutely no margin for error if they want to actually get the W. With a relatively untested offense and rickety old gunslinger Rivers at the helm, not even Frank Reich’s ostensibly genius coaching can prevent a disastrous missed opportunity like this one.
Derek Schultz: I think we might have to come to the realization that the 2020 Colts are like the Pacers have been lately: Pretty good! Competitive! Will devour lesser teams, but are not good enough to consistently beat true contenders. Plucky, blue-collar, ANVIL BANG, swagger, wooooo! (Where’s my t-shirt??) Look, in all seriousness, you can have the best defense in the world, but if you’re going to score fewer than 20 points, you have no prayer of beating a very good-to-great team this season. None. This offense isn’t terrible, but its limitations are glaringly obvious. Philip Rivers can’t beat elite defenses, the running game has no teeth, there are zero elite playmakers on that side of the ball, and Frank Reich, praised in earlier years for his aggression and innovation, has become… boring and conservative? I don’t get it.
DR: That’s a great observation—and it invites an interesting existential question, which is… when does “good enough” stop being, well, good enough? Both the Colts and the Pacers have experienced a serious hangover in this vein, going straight from perennial title contention to the doldrums of okay-ness. Not to flog a dead horse (or Lion) after last week, but as a Detroit sports fan, I personally know what it’s like to endure a long, interminable, aimless rebuild, and I’m frankly jealous of you Hoosiers who have enjoyed nothing worse than even-keeled competitiveness for more than a decade now. Still, playing a team like the Ravens must be a painful reminder of the special sauce a team like this is missing. Andrew Luck, as they say, isn’t walking through that door.
DS: I think it starts becoming tiresome pretty quickly. I believe the Pacers have lost in the first round in seventeen consecutive seasons (it’s late and I stayed up last night past 2:00 a.m. watching Clemson-Notre Dame and Saturday Night Live, so I’m too tired to look it up to verify), so I know for sure that fans are over it with them. Fact is the “doldrums of okay-ness” have been the Colts’ residence for years now. If you throw out the disastrous “Why is Chuck Pagano still here?” season in 2017, Indy is 38-34 since 2015. Feels like they’re trapped there. Speaking of being trapped, where the hell is Nate? Did he get lost in Vincennes at one of his kid’s badminton tournaments or something?
Nate Miller: The Colts have the Ritz Carlton of NFL offenses! Of course, it is the Ritz Carlton Cement Mixing Company down near Shelbyville, but still. I had to listen to the game again on the radio, traveling home from another weekend of Why Am I Doing This Theater, because youth soccer won’t stop until I am a broke and broken man. Point being: that 3rd quarter sounded like how cement drying looks. And sounds. It was…unpleasant. And to answer your question, Derek Jr., that is not an interesting question at all, because the answer is not interesting: it’s already happened. Going 7-and-9 and then getting boat-raced in the first week of the playoffs is “good enough,” for say, Browns fans. They’d be drunk until March… drunk on SUCCESS! (And also beer.) Same with Bills fans. Same with—and sorry, Derek Jr.—Lions fans. Colts fans would rather pluck out our own ACLs with a screwdriver than have that “good enough” season happen again.
DR: That is definitely fair enough—although, to look on the bright side, it seems like this team might have the foundation in place for its defense to dominate for years to come. There’s a balanced mix of stars like Buckner, uber-promising rookies like Julian Blackmon, and free-agent reclamation projects like Xavier Rhodes, who’s finally looked above-replacement-level again in this defense that Reich and Matt Eberflus have built; it’s easy for me to envision this team becoming a Bears or Ravens-like defensive stalwart year-in and year-out. Once you’re there, why not believe the Colts are just one or two key players away from reaching that promised land they last saw a decade ago, when Drew Brees’ arm bore less of a resemblance to overcooked linguini? Of course, that’s easier said than done, as I know all too well.
NM: Many, if not most, teams are “one or two key players away from reaching the promised land,” as long that missing player is a kick-ass quarterback. An NFL team without a kick-ass quarterback is like an NBA team without two or three top-20 players: both teams can very well be close most years, but “close” may as well be 78 billion light-years away. “Close” in a cosmic sense, which is never truly close at all. The Colts and Pacers are exactly that, and it’s grown tiresome.