INDIANAPOLIS — There’s an unwritten rule in the NFL about letting go of the previous game.
Convention holds teams can perform an autopsy on the result – win or lose – for 24 hours. Then it’s time to move on to the next one.
With a Thursday night game on the horizon, the window might be closer to 12 hours for the Indianapolis Colts this week. Not that Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss against the Tennessee Titans will be easy to shake.
The Colts (3-5) trail the AFC South leaders by three games with nine to play and will lose any head-to-head tiebreaker after being swept in the season series. Much of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of quarterback Carson Wentz, whose two late interceptions led to 10 points for the visitors – including Randy Bullock’s 44-yard game-winning field goal.
It's an accusation Wentz does not dispute.
“Yeah, I definitely did (watch the tape) last night,” he said. “I usually do the night of the game. No matter what time we play, I usually can’t sleep until I do. I combed through it -- a lot of good offensively, things to build on. Just the timing of the bad plays really killed us, and that’s me. That’s on me. I have to own that and be better in those situations.”
Indianapolis had five possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter and overtime. The offense averaged just 4.8 yards per play on those drives and had more turnovers (2) than touchdowns (1).
Wentz, who was 22-of-33 for 162 yards and three touchdowns through the first three quarters, was 5-of-18 for 69 yards and the two costly picks down the stretch. That was a major factor in the Colts extending their losing streak against 2020 playoff teams to eight games and dropping their third decision this season by six points or less.
“There’s plenty of opportunities,” Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said. “There’s opportunities to win that game. For whatever reason, it’s never the same thing all the time. It’s never the same player, the same person or the same side of the ball. It’s a team effort. In crunch time, we just got to do a little bit better. We have to coach it better, and we have to play it better.”
Reich doubled down on his belief the first interception against the Titans was on him. He called a tight end screen from his own 8-yard line, and Tennessee defensive end Harold Landry didn’t bite.
Wentz looked to “dirt” the ball, but his most obvious lane was unexpectedly blocked by center Ryan Kelly. When the quarterback pulled the ball back, Titans defensive end Bud Dupree enveloped him.
Ironically, the left-handed interception Wentz threw while in the grasp helped his team. A safety would have ended the game with Tennessee running out the clock. Instead, the Colts were able to drive for a game-tying touchdown and force overtime.
The second interception was all on the quarterback.
On first down from his own 27, Wentz ignored running back Jonathan Taylor on a checkdown he admits likely would have gained “15 or 20 yards” and instead looked deeper down field for wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Wentz believed the second-year star had a step on his defender, but Tennessee safety Kevin Byard swooped in and made the game-turning interception.
It wasn’t the best time for an aggressive throw. There were still more than 4½ minutes remaining on the game clock, and Indianapolis needed just a field goal to walk away with a win.
“It’s always a fine line,” Wentz said of his decision making. “It’s always a fine line because even some of the big plays that we hit, maybe they are forced a little bit and there is a checkdown open. You just have to be smart and take those calculated risks, so to speak, and definitely know the situation in the ball game and all of those things.
“I’m always learning. I’m a work in progress. I’m always learning and trying to be smart and make good decisions. Hopefully the aggressiveness is going to pay off more than it won’t, but in that case it cost me.”
The focus now is on how to best move forward.
There are positives to be gleaned even from a loss this devastating.
Although he still averaged just 4.9 yards per completion through the first three quarters, Wentz avoided the big mistakes and led his team to a 24-21 advantage. Nothing came easily against a Titans defense that was unafraid of physical pass coverage – even when it crossed the line a few times.
But Wentz made it work and put his team in a position for a major victory. Until it mattered most.
The fact Indianapolis can put up 31 points on a day its offense never really seemed to be in sync should be encouraging. However, there already have been far too many “silver lining” losses this season.
“The flow of the game was weird,” Wentz said. “Definitely a different flow of the game. I thought we did a handful of good things, and we had a couple too many penalties and mistakes that we inflicted on ourselves including the turnovers late and all of those things. Definitely the rhythm offensively was a little different. I thought we did some good things but just not enough consistently.”