Colts struggle to explain why the start of 22 looks the same as the end of 21

JACKSONVILLE – There’s no need to beat a dead horse. The Jaguars were already doing that, humiliating the Colts in a 24-0 win Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.

Indianapolis looked lifeless, still couldn’t beat Jacksonville in a road game since 2014, and still couldn’t climb out of the grave it dug for itself in the same place eight months ago.

“I just hope the guys just take the time this offseason to realize what we had ahead of us and let that feeling burn into our hearts,” All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard said after the Colts didn’t make the playoffs in January.

Apparently the message didn’t get through because 252 days later the result was even worse.

“S–t was embarrassing,” All-Pro defensive tackle against DeForest Buckner. “We kicked each other in the ass.”

Indianapolis was without Leonard (back) and top wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (quad), but that’s no excuse for being beaten by a team that hasn’t won more than six games since 2018, especially after an unforgivable tie for the season opener last week in Houston.

Jonathan Taylor is tackled by Jaguar safety Rayshawn Jenkins in the fourth quarter on Sunday. (Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

After so many offseason changes, including the biggest at quarterback, the Colts should be different. So I asked head coach Frank Reich why they weren’t there.

“We’ve been there for two games and are 0-1-1. We’ve got two games behind us and are 0-1-1,” Reich said, repeating the same sentence. “It’s a long season and we’re going to take our medicine for the pathetic performance today, coaches and players and we’ll see how things (start) to stack up.”

That didn’t answer the question.

Reich’s “pathetic” description was illustrated by an offense totaling 71 yards at halftime, and his star running back, Jonathan Taylor, had more carries (five) than yards (four) at the break. But, particularly for the Colts with All-Pro and Pro-Bowl players scattered across their roster, a result that doesn’t seem inspiring would be impossible.

“Unmotivated is not a word you would use to characterize how our weeks are, how this last week was,” Reich said, pushing back on his team’s interpretation. “After our performance last week, the intensity in training was at an all-time high.”

Well, where was it in the game then?

Things should get better with former league MVP Matt Ryan instead of the unpredictable Carson Wentz. But with the latter now in Washington, Indianapolis can’t blame him. And unlike last week, Rodrigo Blankenship can’t blame it either. There’s no one left to make a scapegoat for.

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So again, why does this team look like the same as of late 2021?

“It’s hard to put your finger on that,” Ryan said, questioning the team’s inability to get going. “Of course you have to look at today’s tape to see all the mistakes that were made. There were a lot of them. I feel the preparation was good, but it’s clearly not about playing the way we want to play.

“I think we all need to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror.”

Ryan completed 16 of 30 passes for 195 yards and three interceptions. The first ended the Colts’ first ride and they never found foot again. Wentz, for what it’s worth, never had a three-interception game last season.

In Ryan’s defense, he didn’t have much help. After the first selection which Ryan explained was a communication failure between him and receiver Ashton Dulin, he remained under heavy pressure, being sacked five times and hit 11 times. His second and third picks, both in the fourth quarter, were caused in part by the chaos leading up, with the second interception tipped at the line of scrimmage and the third brought down when Ryan was drilled.

General manager Chris Ballard had the option to add experienced receivers and offensive linemen, but decided against it. The fallout from that gamble was seen in full Sunday when a string of unproven receivers failed to open and the offensive line — particularly left tackle Matt Pryor — failed to hold off Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen and Co.

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Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ defense barely affected Trevor Lawrence, who was arguably having the best game of his career. The former No. 1 was 25 of 30 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. By comparison, Lawrence was 23rd of 32 passes for 223 yards and two points in last year’s regular-season finals against the Colts and picked up right where he left off.

When I asked Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II why the Colts looked essentially the same in both games, he brushed off the notion.

“Last year had nothing to do with today,” Moore said. “This was a week two game for us on the road in Jacksonville and just like week one and every other week I expect us to win and today we didn’t do that at all.”

However, last year did everything to do with Sunday, because that was to be the turning point, an abysmal notion that would never come up again. But so far this team doesn’t look, feel and play any differently than they did on that infamous day in January. It only has one other quarterback wearing the number 2.

If that trend continues, the Colts won’t have to come up with a specific answer as to why this happened — one I’ve still been searching for Sunday’s visiting locker room — because they’ll be too busy, more likely a top-five pick than to stare at a playoff spot.

“It’s just what you prove,” said linebacker Zaire Franklin when asked if Indianapolis had made a step up since last season. “…We know what we have and what we’re capable of, but it’s a league of evidence. Nobody cares what it looks like, so we have to be able to make it happen.”

(Top Photo: David Rosenblum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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