For the past 14 games, I’ve had no problem coming up with at least a handful of major problems the Colts will have to overcome in order to win. Frequently, those problems have been so voluminous, the chances of victory looked slim.
It’s different this week. Kansas City presents a football team so thoroughly awful, there seems no be no possibility of a loss.
Look at the offense:
At quarterback, a couple of decent backups but no starter; in 18 possessions since leading receiver Dwayne Bowe was injured, the Chiefs have not scored; and running back Jamaal Charles has big numbers (1,230 yards) but managed 10 yards on nine carries against Oakland last week.
And then there’s the vaunted defense:
Can’t stop the pass, yielding a 99.3 rating to opposing quarterbacks (including 18 touchdowns; can’t stop the run, yielding almost 2,000 yards and a 4.6 per-carry average; doesn’t make many big plays (seven interceptions, 24 sacks).
As for special teams:
They’ve got nice specialists in kicker Ryan Succop and punter Dustin Colquitt, but they haven’t had a punt return longer than 27 yards or a kickoff return longer than 41, and they’ve yielded big plays in both areas.
Reports are circulating (as well as denials) they’ve reportedly already told general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel they’ll be fired after the season.
There is no shortage of motivation for the Colts. A victory not only would clinch a historic playoff berth, it would gift-wrap next week’s anticipated comeback of head coach Chuck Pagano.
It isn’t as much a must-win as it is a can’t-lose.
Or is it?
A year ago, they carried an 0-13 record into a game against Tennessee, which at 8-7 appeared playoff-bound, and promptly stunned the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd – not to mention fans that already had purchased their Andrew Luck jerseys – with a 27-13 victory.
“The veteran guys reminded all the younger guys about what they did to Tennessee last year,” said interim coach Bruce Arians. “They were in the same boat and beat ‘em, took the role of spoiler. Pros are going to show and play.
“You don’t have to get our guys up for Kansas City. All they’ve got to do is look at the tape and they see one heck of a team on defense and offensively they can run the ball and score with Dexter and Jamaal at any time. We’re going to have to be at our best to beat these guys.”
Should the Colts win, they would become the third team in NFL history to reach the playoffs in a full season following a 2-14 record, and the fourth to improve from two to 10 wins in a single season.
There are milestones on the line, as well.
Andrew Luck (with 3,978) needs 74 yards to break Cam Newton’s rookie record for passing yards (4,051).
Reggie Wayne needs 58 receiving yards to reach 13,000 for his career and three receptions to reach 100 for the fourth time, which would tie for the second-most in league history.
But the big carrot is the playoff berth. Should the Colts not clinch this week, they would have to do so against Houston next Sunday.
“We don’t want to limp into the playoffs,” said Cory Redding. “You want to walk into the playoffs. In order to do that, we have to end on a good note, strong on the offensive side of the ball, strong on special teams and strong defensively. We have to get off to a fast start and finish faster. That’s the whole mindset.”
To be sure, the Colts have had problems with slow starts (five halftime deficits of at least nine points, three on the road) and mistakes (27 turnovers), and Luck has failed to complete half his passes in three straight games. Four of their five losses have come on the road.
So there are issues to be addressed, particularly if the team is to entertain the notion of doing something in the postseason other than participating.
First things first: to get Pagano back on the job, give the banged-up veterans some extra time to heal and make for a very merry Christmas week, the Colts must first avoid the inconceivable.