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KRAVITZ: From joy to sadness, Colts win but fall even further out of playoff contention

For a few fleeting moments, there was joy, unfettered joy.
The Colts beat the Vikings in Minnesota on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 (photo courtesy NFL on CBS)

MINNEAPOLIS (WTHR) - For a few fleeting moments, there was joy, unfettered joy. You could hear the Colts whooping and hollering in their locker room, their playoff hopes having suddenly swelled with a 34-6 victory over the Vikings while both the Texans and Titans were losing late in the fourth quarter. It was becoming a very good, albeit a very frigid, day. They began the day as a 6 percent long shot; now, if they could tether their victory to losses by Houston and Tennessee, they would head into next week in Oakland with a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs.

And then it all fell apart. In 10 brutal minutes, it all fell apart.

It began when Andrew Luck was standing in the interview room, talking about how ferociously the Colts ran the football, how beautifully the rookie-dominated offensive line played, how his team scored 34 points against the best defense in the league and had TD drives of 92, 91 and 88 yards. On two TV’s on the sides of the room, Tennessee’s kicker, Ryan Succop, was lining up a game-winning 53-yarder. The kick was up, and the kick was…

“Did he make it?’’ Luck asked in mid-reply to a media question.

Yes, he was told. Tennessee won, beat Kansas City.

Luck’s face was impassive. “You can only control what you can control,’’ he said, shrugging.

Now it was about 10 minutes later, and the Texans, who were in deep trouble and had pulled the perpetually struggling Brock Osweiler in favor of Tom Savage, were being pushed to the edge by the Jaguars. The Texans had just taken a 21-20 lead.

“What’s happening in the game?’’ a group of players asked me.

“Let me put the game on,’’ I replied, tuning in the Slingbox on my phone.

And then it happened. A Blake Bortles interception. Ballgame.

Bleep.

Dammit, Bortles.

Typical Jaguars.

Duke Williams, a Colts backup safety, asked what the Colts needed now to make the playoffs.

“A Christmas miracle,’’ I told him.

So, for the Colts to make the playoffs:

  • The Colts have to win at Oakland next Saturday and at home against Jacksonville;
  • Houston has to lose to Cincinnati next week and then to Tennessee in the season finale;
  • Tennessee needs to lose to Jacksonville next week and then beat Houston.

Like I said, a Christmas miracle.

The Colts will look back on this season and recall so many moments of deep regret. The way they fell to pieces late in the Detroit game. The blunders against Jacksonville. The implosion in Houston. The home loss against Houston. So many regrets and recriminations.

“We’d like to take a whole lot back,’’ Mike Adams said. “Starting with Detroit.’’

In the end, this result, this abject blowout of the Vikings, it makes last week look and feel even worse. This makes last week’s horrific performance against the Houston Texans even more impossible to comprehend and digest. A week ago, the Colts had the AFC South crown in their grasp and threw it away with one of their more ridiculous efforts in recent years, one that inspired T.Y. Hilton to say the team “laid down’’ and had Robert Mathis questioning the team’s mental toughness.

Then, they come out Sunday here at U.S. Bank Stadium, and what do they do? They absolutely pulverize the Minnesota Vikings on a day when Adrian Peterson is returning from September knee surgery. They crush them in every conceivable way. Frank Gore goes for 101 yards on 26 carries, just the third time Luck has been supported by a 100-yard rusher during his pro career. They tore the Vikings asunder with the passing game. They stuffed Adrian Peterson (6 rushes, 22 yards) and choked off the Vikings’ short passing game. They forced three turnovers. They avoided killing penalties. They protected the quarterback, allowing no sacks and just two quarterback hits. They stopped the Vikings punt- and kick-return game. They did a little bit of everything right, running the Vikes out of their new $1.1 billion building.

Stats? Stats: In the first half, the Colts had 21 first downs, the Vikings two. The Colts were 6-of-11 on third downs, the Vikings 0-for-2. The Colts had 281 yards, the Vikings 69. The Colts out-rushed the Vikings 183-52 in the first half, walking to the locker room with a 27-0 lead.

And what did it all mean?

It meant that for the second straight season, the Colts showed themselves as the Kings of Garbage Time.

They showed, for the second straight season, that nobody bounces back from a soul-crushing, division-blowing home loss to the Texans with quite the vigor and focus of the Indianapolis Colts. Last year, they lost at home to Houston and Brandon Freaking Weeden, then finished the season by winning at Miami and beating Tennessee with the ghost of Mike Pagel at quarterback. This year, they destroyed the Vikings after losing to Houston.

After the game, we heard the usual nonsense about grit and perseverance and character and good DNA, but I look at the Colts and see the baseball hitter who pads his stats with solo homeruns in the eighth inning of 7-1 games. Where was all this grit and perseverance and character and good DNA last week? You know, when it really mattered, when the AFC South, the division nobody deserves, was there for the taking?

It’s easy, or at least easier, to play when the pressure is off. The real competitors, the true champs, rise to the moment when the stakes are highest.

Give the Colts credit for playing brilliantly – especially that young and reshuffled offensive line, which basically shut out the Vikings second-ranked defense – and it surely beats the alternative, the Colts laying down and quitting on the season. But it continues to beg the eternal question: Where was this last week? And so many weeks before that?

However things play out these last two weeks, this just isn’t a good football team, isn’t a playoff-bound football team, just a mediocre 7-7 collection of talent that can’t pass muster in the decidedly ordinary AFC South. And no, Jim Irsay, they could not just as easily be 11-4. I mean, they could just as easily be 4-11. We can do these mathematical gymnastics all day, and it won’t mean a thing.

“It’s unfortunate,’’ Adams said, “because we really seem to be clicking now.’’

Yeah,
against the Jets
, against the Vikings, they were dominant, showed how good they can be and how good they should be more often. But there were all those stinkers, too, and the ultimate stinker against Houston last Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Now they need that Christmas miracle. They say they are believers, but, then, they have no other choice but to believe.