INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — October began with so much promise for the Indianapolis Colts.
Two straight wins put them atop the AFC South, running back Jonathan Taylor was about to be activated from injured reserve, rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson cleared the concussion protocol, and four of their next five games were at home.
Then, reality hit.
They endured the annual nightmare loss at Jacksonville, Richardson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and now a three-game skid has them searching for a way out of the division's cellar.
“Everybody talks about toughness," quarterback Gardner Minshew said after Sunday's 38-27 loss to New Orleans. "When your body hurts, when your heart hurts, who’s tough? I think we’re about to figure that out, but I feel good about the guys we've got."
What's gone wrong over these last five games? What hasn't?
Since replacing Richardson, Minshew has thrown five interceptions, lost four fumbles, been sacked nine times and is 0-3.
Taylor, the 2021 rushing champ, ended an ugly contract dispute by signing a three-year extension on Oct. 7, but had only one second-half carry Sunday after rushing for 87 yards in the first quarter.
And one week after top receiver Michael Pittman Jr. publicly lobbied for a larger role in the offense, he caught eight passes for 40 yards and blamed his bad route for Minshew's lone turnover Sunday.
Defensively, the Colts (3-5) have allowed 37, 39 and 38 points over the last three weeks.
“We know we're better than that," two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “We have proved we're better than that. There is nothing special (to do). There are things we prepare for and in those moments, we are just dropping the ball.”
The obvious solution to ending this midseason slump would be leaning more heavily on a ball-control game plan that would help reduce the number of turnovers, sacks and opponents' scoring chances.
And while the doubters think it's an impossible task after eight games, Minshew believes the Colts can turn the corner in time to make November a month to remember.
“It stings, it stings a lot when you lose three games, especially the way it’s been going,” defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis said Monday. “It does hurt, but there’s always like a new week, a new opportunity. I think moving forward you don’t have much of a choice but to win now.”
The short passing game. Quicker throws helped alleviate some of the pressure on Minshew and appeared to solve the turnover problem. Minshew had one giveaway Sunday after posting four in each of the two previous weeks.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The secondary. There's a steep learning curve for young NFL defensive backs, and when injuries hit, the challenge becomes even greater. Only seven teams are allowing more than Indy's 247.3 yards passing per game. And while Indy's pass rush has been effective, its secondary has not.
WR Josh Downs. The rookie seems to be taking on a bigger role each week. He had seven catches for 72 yards against the Saints and is now second on the team in receptions (40) behind only Pittman (50). No other Colts player has more than 17 catches this season.
CB Tony Brown. He has been primarily a special teams player for the Colts but made his first start of the season Sunday. It didn't go well. He gave up a 58-yard TD pass and the 51-yard pass that essentially sealed Indy's fate. He also drew a face mask penalty that helped set up the Saints' final TD.
Steichen didn't announce any injuries after the game, though Minshew (left ankle) and LB Zaire Franklin (right knee) got dinged up. The bigger question may be whether Indy gets anyone back from a list that includes CB JuJu Brents (quad), RT Braden Smith (hip and wrist), DT Eric Johnson II (ankle) and TE Kylen Granson (concussion protocol).
6.8 — Taylor and Zack Moss have given Indy one of the league's top rushing tandems since Taylor returned to action. They did it again Sunday, combining for 23 carries, 161 yards and one TD as the Colts averaged 6.8 yards per carry.
The Colts' next contest, against Carolina (1-6) and former coach Frank Reich, certainly provides hope for a turnaround. After all, they're facing a rookie quarterback, No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, and one of the league's worst scoring offenses (18.8 points). It's also an opportunity for the league's worst-scoring defense (28.8 points) to show it can do better.
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