Late-season collapse proves costly, Colts miss playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts opened the season with three losses. Losing their last two games on the schedule then doomed their postseason hopes.

After charging back from yet another slow start to position themselves for a third playoff appearance in four years, the Colts blew two chances to win and get into the AFC’s seven-team playoff field. They now find themselves suddenly cleaning out lockers, figuring out what went wrong and promising to...

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts opened the season with three losses. Losing their last two games on the schedule then doomed their postseason hopes.

After charging back from yet another slow start to position themselves for a third playoff appearance in four years, the Colts blew two chances to win and get into the AFC’s seven-team playoff field. They now find themselves suddenly cleaning out lockers, figuring out what went wrong and promising to make changes next season.

“We didn’t do enough, that’s what it always just comes down to,” two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard said after Sunday’s inexplicable 26-11 loss at Jacksonville. “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.”

In some ways, an uncharacteristic performance finally did in the Colts (9-8).

Indy went into the weekend tied with Dallas for the league lead in takeaways with 33, the league’s top rusher, and eight wins in 11 games. It even won at Arizona on Christmas night despite playing without eight starters. On Sunday, though, the Colts were flat, couldn’t get in sync and didn’t have a takeaway against one of the league’s worst teams.

In other ways, it was eerily reminiscent of a glaring season-long problem — finishing.

Indy went 4-5 at Lucas Oil Stadium and blew fourth-quarter leads against the Rams, Ravens, Titans and Raiders — losing all four, three on home turf. Then Sunday, with their season on the line, the Colts had their most uninspiring performance.

It was a head scratcher for everyone and prompted team owner Jim Irsay to bring in coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard for a meeting Sunday night.

“I love his approach and how demanding and holding us all accountable, but also showing support as an owner that he wants to do whatever it takes to get our organization to the top, to get our team to the top,” Reich said Monday. “It was a good conversation, a supportive conversation, but also demanding and wanting answers and wanting to hold us accountable.”

Reich, Leonard and the rest of the Colts will have an unexpectedly long offseason to find the solution.

THE CHAMP

Jonathan Taylor’s goal was to win a championship. For now, the second-year running back must settle for dethroning Derrick Henry as the NFL’s rushing champ. Henry missed much of the season while injured.

Taylor rushed for a franchise-record 1,811 yards, becoming the fourth player in team history to top 2,000 yards from scrimmage in one season. He ran for 552 yards more than second-place finisher Nick Chubb and was one of a league-high seven Colts players selected to the Pro Bowl. It’s little consolation.

“You were planning on your routine, scheduling your massages and body work for the next upcoming week because you had that much confidence in your team,” Taylor said. “So, it just kind of has you sitting there trying to make sense of it.”

WENTZ REVIVAL

Carson Wentz struggled after returning to the field following a positive COVID-19 test. He was just 33 of 56 with 333 yards, two TD passes and two turnovers in the final two games.

While nobody discussed whether any of the virus’ lingering effects impacted Wentz, or his teammates who also tested positive, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 did jump-start his career after a dismal 2020 in Philadelphia.

Despite having foot surgery, playing through two sprained ankles and dealing with the virus, the unvaccinated Wentz still threw for 3,563 yards passing and 27 TDs while getting picked off seven times.

“I have the utmost confidence in this organization and the players, the way it’s built, the way it’s wired,” Wentz said. “It’s a great group, and I have a lot of confidence in it. But right now, it’s hard to kind of fully think forward.”

CHANGES?

The Colts have plenty of questions to answer this offseason, starting with the futures of two key veterans: four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton and left tackle Eric Fisher.

Hilton took a bargain, one-year deal to return to Indy this season and wound up tying Raymond Berry for No. 3 in receptions in Colts history (631). But at age 32, he’s missed six games twice in the past three seasons.

Fisher struggled with injuries and consistency this season and played poorly Sunday. His expiring contract could be the end of a brief career in Indy.

NEXT STEPS

The Colts still have a solid foundation with Taylor, one of the league’s top offensive lines and a young, opportunistic defense. But they must get more productivity from a passing game that bogged down over the past two weeks. Second-year receiver Michael Pittman Jr. had his first 1,000-yard season and could become a star with more time with Wentz.

What do the Colts need? A complementary secondary receiver, a more consistent pass rush and a stronger No. 1 option at cornerback.

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