Colts melt down in loss to Jaguars, are eliminated from playoff race after Steelers' win
JACKSONVILLE -- A Colts team that once seemed like a lock for the postseason now finds its playoff hopes officially over after one of the worst losses in franchise history.
But even if Indianapolis had gotten the necessary support to let the Colts back into the playoffs, the Colts’ choke in the final two games of the season, and especially on Sunday in Jacksonville, will throw the rest of the offseason in turmoil
All Indianapolis had to do to make the playoffs was beat the worst team in the NFL.
The Colts instead played their worst game of the season, struggling in every facet of the game in a 26-11 loss to a team that had just two wins and had scored more than 20 points in only one of its last 10 games. The Pittsburgh Steelers' subsequent overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens officially knocked the Colts out of the playoffs.
1. Carson Wentz completes collapse
For weeks, Jonathan Taylor’s brilliance, opportunistic defensive play and a mirage of a fourth quarter in Arizona allowed Indianapolis to mask the fact that the starting quarterback it traded to get this offseason was collapsing.
Wentz hit rock bottom on Sunday in Jacksonville.
Inaccurate, indecisive and reckless, Wentz completed 17 of 29 passes for 185 yards, took six sacks and made two back-breaking plays that sealed the Colts’ fate.
The first, an ugly fumble in his own territory, stemmed from a problem Wentz has had all season long. For the most part, he’d been able to avoid interceptions, but he’s frequently tried to avoid sacks by shoveling or pitching the ball for plays that have no chance. Wentz tried it again as a Jacksonville rusher came free, got the ball knocked out of his hand for a fumble and gave up a field goal attempt.
The next was the sort of play that hasn’t burned him this season. Wentz tried to force the ball to Mo Alie-Cox instead of flipping it to an open Jonathan Taylor, and tossed his first road interception and gave away any chance the Colts had of coming back.
But outside of the fourth quarter in Arizona, Wentz’s play fit what he’d been doing down the stretch. Big, elusive and strong-armed, Wentz was supposed to add a big-play element to the offense, and he did early in the season.
That dynamic disappeared outside of the final drive in Arizona, and Wentz’s worst qualities became magnified, the same way Jacoby Brissett’s worst qualities came to the forefront in 2019. Indianapolis stopped getting explosive passing plays, Wentz struggled with his accuracy, and in the two biggest games of the season, Wentz killed the Colts.
Wentz’s collapse now leaves Indianapolis with quarterback questions for the fifth consecutive year, albeit without a first-round pick and with a ton of prohibitive dead money on the salary cap.
2. Colts offensive line gets pushed around
Indianapolis is supposed to be built on the strength of its offensive line.
The Colts have the NFL’s best guard in Quenton Nelson, a three-time Pro Bowl center in Ryan Kelly, a $72 million right tackle in Braden Smith and a veteran left tackle, Eric Fisher, who was brought in to stabilize a spot left open by the retirement of Anthony Castonzo.
Indianapolis should have been able to ride that line to a win, regardless of how the quarterback played.
Instead, Jacksonville’s defensive line overmatched and overwhelmed the pride of the Colts’ roster, shutting down Jonathan Taylor’s running lanes for the entirety of the first half and racking up six sacks on Wentz.
3. Indianapolis defense torn apart by Trevor Lawrence
A Colts defense that has relied on its cornerbacks this season lost Rock Ya-Sin on the first drive, and the No. 1 pick in the draft took advantage.
Lawrence completed his first 12 passes and finished 23 of 32 for 223 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Meanwhile, with Ya-Sin out and DeForest Buckner able to play only on third downs, a Colts pass rush that has been the worst Indianapolis has put together failed to get any pressure on Lawrence, sacking him just once and recording just two quarterback hits.
Indianapolis has often masked its deficiencies by creating turnovers; the Colts entered Sunday’s game with a chance at the league lead, against a Jaguars team that has turned it over more than any team in the NFL.
But the takeaway never came, and Jacksonville scored just enough points to all but end the Colts’ playoff hopes.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts melt down in loss to Jaguars, are eliminated from playoff race after Steelers' win