INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts are frustrated about being 0-3 for the first time in a decade.
They're mystified by the repeated inability to convert short-yardage situations and score touchdowns in the red zone. And they're upset about an underperforming defense.
Now, instead of assigning blame, those inside the locker room are motivated by proving this uncharacteristically poor start is merely an early-season mirage.
“This is a sick taste in my mouth," 2020 All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard said after Indy's 25-16 loss at Tennessee. “When you talk about 1-0, 1-0, but damn, we've got to get 1-0 and we've got to get there soon. We've got to find a way to get the job done."
The urgency of winning a game clearly was evident in almost every word Leonard uttered during the postgame news conference. He made no excuses and spoke passionately about finding corrections, especially with the pressure that mounts with each successive loss.
Schedule makers didn't give the winless Colts an immediate respite, either.
Next weekend, Indy will likely face its former starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett in Miami. Then there's a trip to the Colts' old hometown, Baltimore, and a date against 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson. After those two, the schedule may, finally, ease up.
But if any team can rebound from this troubled start, it may be the Colts.
Three years ago, they started 1-5 and still made the playoffs. This year, they'll have 17 games to make it. And nobody has been better at orchestrating comebacks than coach Frank Reich.
As a player, he rallied the Buffalo Bills from a 32-point deficit to beat Houston in January 1993 and it still ranks as the largest comeback in NFL history. Nine years earlier in college, Reich engineered another record-breaking moment by leading Maryland back from a 31-point deficit at Miami. That one is tied for the fourth-largest comeback in FBS history.
Can he do it again? The Colts believe he can and they will.
“I’m angry, and I’m upset,” running back Nyheim Hines said after scoring Indy’s only touchdown Sunday. “A lot of teams may not be able to come back from this, but I think we can. We’re going to look at the film, bust our butts on Wednesday and try to set the tone to win this game.”
Turnovers. Leonard and the defensive leaders made this season's goal clear: 40-plus takeaways. Through two weeks, the Colts had three. But with top cornerback Xavier Rhodes returning, they forced three against Tennessee.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Ground game. Reich continues to talk about a run-first approach even as the Colts have struggled mightily against three strong defenses. Indy picked up 4.8 yards per carry Sunday, but threw more than twice as often as it ran (37-18).
Carson Wentz. Indy's quarterback, was a solid 19 of 37 with 194 yards and was sacked twice despite limited mobility because of two sprained ankles. Still, he showed his new teammates how tough he is — and how much he wants to win.
Parris Campbell. The oft-injured receiver returned after missing Week 2 because of an abdomen injury, but only had two passes thrown his way. He caught one for 9 yards. The other was incomplete because he didn't catch it cleanly.
The Colts lost four starters at Tennessee, including three-time All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson with a sprained right ankle. He's considered day to day and if he doesn't play Sunday, the Colts would again be missing at least one of the five projected starters on the offensive line. Defensive end Kwity Paye (hamstring), safety Khari Willis (groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) also left early. Four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton (neck surgery) isn't ready to start practicing yet, Reich said Monday.
36.4 — When it seemed the Colts' woes in the red zone couldn't get worse, they did. Indy had one TD in three trips inside Tennessee's 20-yard line. The Colts are 4 of 11 this season, giving them a 36.4% touchdown conversion rate.
Reich will spend another week closely monitoring the injury report with Wentz, Nelson, Paye, Willis and Ya-Sin joining the list. Right tackle Braden Smith has missed the past two games with a strained foot. Hilton is now eligible to be activated from injured reserve. And yet, amid all that work, the Colts need to devise a game plan that can lead to a victory.