INDIANAPOLIS – A missed opportunity in the final home game of the season.
That is what happened to the Colts (9-7) on Sunday afternoon, losing 23-20 to the Raiders.
What did we learn from the Colts failing to clinch a playoff berth?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Derek Carr, Hunter Renfrow Make The Play: Darius Leonard will lose some sleep over what could have been on the play of the game. For Kenny Moore on the back end, it will be more of a 60-minute nightmare for his performance. From the onset on Sunday, the Raiders looked like the team that took it personal being a touchdown underdog. They jumped on the Colts early, building a two-score lead, which put Indy in a position they haven’t been since Week 3. While the Colts climbed back into this one, they also missed out on chances to cash in off turnovers—something they’ve excelled in all season long. That, and the inability for the offense to take over a game, left the Raiders with a chance late. And that was Derek Carr eluding Darius Leonard in the pocket and stepping up to find a leaping Hunter Renfrow for a 24-yard catch over Kenny Moore. That 3rd-and-10 play from the Indy 48-yard line put the Raiders in game-winning field goal range for Daniel Carlson. Whereas the Colts made the winning play in last week’s 4th quarter, it was the other QB making it on Sunday afternoon. Leonard had some really big plays on Sunday (an interception and a key forced fumble), but his goose egg in the sack column this season will still eat at him. For Moore, it was a constant struggle in coverage against Renfrow. When you let a touchdown-underdog feel like they are in the thick of it throughout, winning time can go either way. And it went to Carr and the Raiders on Sunday.
2. More Shakiness From Carson Wentz: Maybe that was rookie Sam Ehlinger playing quarterback for the Colts on Sunday? It certainly didn’t look like an established veteran playing QB with yet another 100-yard outing from Jonathan Taylor. Easily the biggest offensive worry for the Colts late in the season has been their passing game. And that was wildly apparent on Sunday. Wentz misfired routinely, going 16-of-27 for 148 yards and a touchdown. His 1 touchdown was a gift people in Vegas dream of, with two Raiders defenders crashing into each other causing a sure-fire interception to result into a T.Y. Hilton touchdown. You had iffy decision making in identifying blitzes and trying to keep dead plays alive and the passing offense again lacked any substance in playing off such a respected run game. Now, like we’ve said, Wentz and the Colts lack a dynamic pass catching group. But there were still some plays to be made, with a wide-open Hilton early in the 4th quarter being atop that list. No one labels Derek Carr as a truly ‘elite’ QB, but you saw him make several big-time plays when the Raiders really needed it and doing it without his top pass catcher. And the other quarterback did not. Yes, Wentz couldn’t practice this week due to him being on the COVID-list, but he was healthy enough to work out on his own Wednesday. Plus, as Reich said himself after the game, practice time this late in the season isn’t as pressing. That is no excuse for the head coach. It’s the hanging cloud over this Colts team. Do they have a good enough quarterback/passing offense to get it done in the playoffs?
3. “Lucky” Colts Still Couldn’t Get It Done: That T.Y. Hilton touchdown on Sunday. If that’s the final time we see Hilton playing inside of Lucas Oil Stadium, it’ll be remembered as perhaps the ‘luckiest’ touchdown of his career. Given the wildness and ever-changing COVID situation in this 2021 NFL season, the Colts caught the breaks of all breaks this week when an adjustment in protocols allowed for an Indy team to have all of its important guys still play, compared to many teams who have had to deal with multi-week absences this season. Despite this good fortunate, the Colts could not take advantage. Health wise, the Colts still look to be in pretty good shape (Xavier Rhodes left Sunday’s loss with a hamstring injury) going into the postseason. Eric Fisher, and even Parris Campbell, could be back next week. Lady luck has been kind to the Colts in 2021, especially late in the season. But they still need to do their part in clinching a spot. Outside of the good fortunes department, the Colts got decent defensive play on Sunday, with a few flashes in the pass rush game. But the offense wasn’t at the level needed when playing an average/above average opponent.
4. Was That It For T.Y. Hilton? It’s a little weird to talk about after a loss, but Sunday could have been the final game inside of Lucas Oil Stadium for T.Y. Hilton (and potentially Jack Doyle, too). Hilton’s lone catch on Sunday was a fluke-ish 45-yard TD in which the ball caromed off two Raiders defenders and into his hands for a ‘shrug of the shoulders’ type score. Wentz missed Hilton on two other targets, including one which could have been a game-changing play. At 32, Hilton’s career has clearly hit a point where he’s no longer a player that can be a No. 1, or even a No. 2, wideout at a consistent level. Still, he’s had a hell of a decade-run as a third-round pick out of Florida International. If Campbell indeed is able to return late in the season, the already dwindling-playing time for Hilton might decrease even more to close out the season. Whether it’s retirement, free agency or the Colts deciding to move on from Hilton, Sunday might have been it for The Ghost inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
5. Division Hopes Done: With one week to go in the regular season, the only path for the Colts to make the playoffs remains the Wild Card. Those fading AFC South hopes are now gone with the Colts losing in Week 17 (the Colts had to win each of their final two games, along with the Titans losing their final two games). The Titans have clinched the AFC South, meaning the Colts division drought now spans 7 years, the longest period of time without winning a division since the mid-90s. Despite the Titans having a slew of injuries, their 10-6 mark and sweep of the Colts put them in firm control of the AFC South since late October. This was the No. 1 goal for the Colts entering the season and now it’s done with one week to go. That’s disappointing as the battered Titans sit as the No. 1 seed in the AFC going into the final week of the season. Sure, the Colts are still in a good position to make the playoffs via the Wild Card (a win in Jacksonville next week will get them into the playoffs), but we know the difficulty of winning 3 straight road playoff games, particularly when you have a QB with minimal playoff experience. We’ll have to see how Sunday’s results play out, but it looks like the Colts will be the 7 seed, traveling to take on the No. 2 seed Chiefs…if the playoff standings stay this way through the final week of the season.
-Injury Report: Cornerback Xavier Rhodes left the game in the third quarter and did not return due to a hamstring injury. The team’s inactives were as followed: LT-Eric Fisher (knee, pec, toe), S-Andrew Sendejo (concussion), RB-Marlon Mack, OL-Will Fries, WR-Mike Strachan, DE-Ben Banogu, QB-Brett Hundley.
-Key Stat: Jonathan Taylor set the single-season franchise record on Sunday for rushing yards, with 1,734 to move past Edgerrin James.
–What’s Next: The Colts (9-7) will head to Jacksonville (2-14) for their season finale next week. It’ll be a 1:00 PM kick next Sunday, in a place they haven’t won since 2014.