Colts face must-win game in season finale


If the Indianapolis Colts make the playoffs, all will be forgiven. The 1-4 start, the loss to the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. If the Colts lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the playoffs at stake this Sunday, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway.

There could be fewer nice gift opponents than the 2-14 Jaguars with so much on the line for the Colts. If the Jaguars played in the English Premier League in soccer they would be relegated to a lower division after this kind of season, or maybe their losing ways will get them transferred to the Canadian Football League next fall.

But the record is Jacksonville’s problem. It should not be the Colts’. The Colts put themselves in this last-ditch, gotta-win situation on the last Sunday of the 2021 regular NFL season. By the grace of pulling themselves together and the cooperation of some other teams, they still have the opportunity to haul themselves out of the hole they dug a few months ago.

They could have solved this problem versus the Raiders, but lost 23-20, to a team at least as desperate as they were. No shame in that loss, but it will be shame-on-the-Colts if they stumble in the Jags game. Put it this way, the Jags deserve the No. 1 draft pick for 2022 and Colts fans hope they don’t blow their chance.

So the Colts bring a 9-7 record into the contest, a team that at times has looked as good as any in the league (except maybe the Green Bay Packers), but hasn’t always looked as any in the league. It is time to shine.

“We don’t want to come this far for nothing,” said wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, whose touchdown catch against Vegas was one of the most entertaining moments of last weekend. “We’re pretty much locked in.”

Interestingly, Darius Leonard, the linebacker who is pretty much king of the defense, said he didn’t feel the Colts practiced with the proper intensity for the Raiders, calling the team “lackadaisical” including him. Huh? How could they not be? Every fan in a 100-mile radius of Indianapolis knew it was win-and-you’re in. So whatever Leonard is talking about, the Colts can’t afford to do it again.

One area the Colts can only partially prepare for is the air they breathe. As the nation is swamped anew by the COVID-19 omicron variant, forcing athletes in all sports to quarantine and citizens of all stripes to miss work, there’s no telling who might wake up sick on Sunday and who may fail a league-imposed coronavirus test.

The Colts adopted team policies as stringent as any team’s, yet still had players sidelined routinely (especially offensive linemen) and being shuffled through workouts and stay-at-home admonishments like a deck of cards.

Coach Frank Reich said he still has COVID on the mind. While he has reacted maturely and calmly as each illness popped up, knowing that he can’t do much about it except go with the stereotypical next-man-up NFL philosophy, he said that uncontrollable variable does perturb him.

“I’m still concerned about it,” Reich said. “You’re always mindful of the virus and what it can do, but when you look at all the factors… we’re on the downside of it.”

Meaning he thinks almost all the Colts have had a bout with the virus and emerged from quarantine.

Running back Jonathan Taylor has emerged as a special weapon for all occasions (even last week he topped 100 yards again) when it is possible he doesn’t know the names of all the linemen up front. They were coming and going so quickly.

Taylor is the leading rusher in the league and has already set a team record with his 1,734 yards rushing and has scored 20 touchdowns. He is one of the most feared weapons in football right now.

The inability of teams to slow down Taylor has made quarterback Carson Wentz more effective and that’s been important since Wentz has been acceptable, but not an all-star. Injuries within the receiving corps have limited some options, though Michael Pittman Jr. has 82 catches.

It may fascinate fans of other non-team sports that in a club discussion earlier this week, Reich compared the season to a long slog like climbing Mount Everest. He referred to the “death zone,” which in the mountaineering world is altitude higher than 26,000 feet.

Reich said the Colts are in the death zone now. It is unlikely the whole team is going to perish, so the other two possible outcomes are to turn back (losing) or push through to reach the summit. It’s up to the Colts to push the Jaguars off a cliff since they are in the way.

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