I think the first ever Super Wildcard Weekend was a success. Wall-to-wall football in the midst of a pandemic and winter weather felt right. We got mostly competitive games book-ended by the Colts blowing a winnable game and the Browns shaking off decades of failure and pulling off one of the wildest upsets in recent memory.
Some Indy-focused thoughts from the weekend.
When your team loses a close game, you spend the time afterward picking through dozens of little moments that could have changed the outcome. Saturday’s loss in Buffalo may have been the ultimate example of that.
While Josh Allen and the Bills played nearly perfect football, the Colts, in some ways, played even better. It was their numerous mistakes that cost the Colts the game.
There was the shitty play call on third and goal before halftime, a pitch to the outside, which pushed the Colts back from the one to the four yard line and made going for it on fourth down a tougher proposition. When that fourth down attempt failed, I chalked up three expected points lost.
On the ensuing drive, on another fourth and short, when the Bills were just trying to draw the Colts offside and seemed content to kick a field goal, a Colts lineman jumped. A couple plays later the Bills scored a touchdown, and I chalked up four unexpected points for them.
In the second half the Colts bounced a makable field goal off the upright, losing three potential more points.
Later when they scored their first touchdown of the half, they went for two and failed, losing another expected point.
That’s 11 points the Colts pissed away in a game they lost by 3.
There was plenty more to bitch about. It made no sense to challenge a catch early in the fourth quarter and blow a timeout. What made it stupid was that there was an injury timeout on the play. The Colts had plenty of time to review the play and see that it was not worth wasting a timeout to check on. But they stuck with their review and blew a valuable timeout.
They lost another timeout trying to avoid a delay of game penalty, something they came dangerously close to doing seemingly every play of the game.
And then the last drive. For some insane reason after getting a first down with about 90 seconds left, THEY HUDDLED UP and wasted nearly 30 seconds off the clock. In a game of questionable moments, this was the absolute dumbest and least defensible. It made everything that happened afterward tougher. Although, to be fair, they benefited greatly from a review of a clear fumble that should have ended the game but somehow went the Colts’ way.
Frank Reich is an aggressive coach. Saturday showed why most coaches are so vanilla. People love it when you go for it on fourth down, or are otherwise aggressive, and it pays off. But it makes them crazy when it fails, especially in a big game. I don’t have huge problems with Reich’s aggressiveness Saturday. He should have called a better play on that third down before halftime. I have zero doubt the Colts’ meltdown in Pittsburgh two weeks ago was in the back of his mind, and he wanted touchdowns rather than field goals. I’m with him at the macro level, it’s the micro level stuff that needs to be brushed up before (hopefully) the next time the Colts are in a tight game in the playoffs.
The Colts are in a decent place going into next year.
Jonathan Taylor was an absolute revelation in the second half of the season, and looks poised to give the Colts their best rushing attack since Edgerrin James. The front seven of the defense looks strong. The young receivers came on late.
They will need to replace T.Y. Hilton, who should take a bigger payout than the Colts will offer to finish his career elsewhere. They may need a new left tackle. They could use someone who can provide pressure from the edges. The defensive backfield, as always, needs help.
The biggest question, though, is what to do at quarterback. Phillip Rivers was seen as one-year trial, with the option for a second year. As much as I dislike him, I have to admit this season must be called a success. After a slow start, he became very steady. He’s a solid NFL QB right now; neither elite nor overmatched but one who can manage a game and make plays to win.
But he’s old, and seems older than the other old guys out there like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He’s lost arm strength and he can’t move. I’m kind of shocked his completion percentage was so high, as so many of his balls were caught at or below the knees. I worry just a little regression means those balls drop, and the deep balls go 5–10 yards shorter. Was this just a charmed year when he (barely) managed to stay healthy through the entire season? Will he be able to rehab totally from his impending foot surgery or is it the beginning of a downward slide physically?
The Colts don’t have the assets to trade up to get one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Nor should they mortgage their other strengths in an effort to go get Deshaun Watson or Dax Prescott. Reich worked with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, but I don’t think he’s worth trading for. Sam Darnold is an interesting reclamation project, but not for a team that is poised to win now like the Colts.
In short, unless Andrew Luck decides to un-retire, it seems like the Colts’ best move is to bring Rivers back for another year. Which means another 10-ish win season and early playoff loss. For everything Rivers can do, in his current state he’s not a quarterback who can win you a Super Bowl. Certainly not when you have to get through Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes just to reach a Super Bowl.
Based on the last four games, the Jayhawks seem to be on a clear hot-cold cycle. Shot really well and won comfortably in games one and three against West Virginia and TCU. Shot poorly and got run out of the building by Texas in game two. Shot poorly and were lucky to survive Oklahoma in game four Saturday.
So I guess Oklahoma State better watch out tomorrow!
Every KU game the announcers mention how different this team is from last year, notably when David McCormack struggles inside where Udoka Azubuike would be dominating. That’s true. But where this team really struggles is in missing a true point guard. Marcus Garrett is a terrific player, but he’s not a true point guard, especially when he tries to do too much. Which seems like most possessions this year. Dajuan Harris is going to be a good, four-year player. But he’s not ready to be the consistent PG–1. The four/five smalls lineup makes it easier to mask not having a true point, but there are so many moments when the offense breaks down and Garrett or Jalen Wilson or someone else forces the issue late in the shot clock and dribbles into disaster.
You know who would be a perfect match for this offense? Devon Dotson, who – checks notes – has played 10 total minutes in his first 11 NBA games. Alas…