INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts understand the predicament.
They're winless after two games and have the NFL's fewest points. They've struggled to protect quarterback Matt Ryan or produce turnovers.
And they've lost six of their past eight home openers as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs arrive in town Sunday.
So naturally, fans who have seen Indy start 1-5 twice in the past four seasons worry it could be happening all over again.
Inside the locker room, though, the Colts don't sound like a flailing team. They're confident, upbeat and determined to move beyond last week's embarrassing shutout at Jacksonville.
“Obviously, last week sucked, but last week doesn't matter anymore,” running back Nyheim Hines said. “We've got to defend our home turf against a really great team, one of the best teams in the AFC. That's what we're going to do this week, we're going to defend Lucas Oil (Stadium) with pride.”
Backing that up will almost certainly prove more difficult.
In a league where early season oddities now seem the norm, the Chiefs (2-0) appear to be in midseason form as they chase a fifth straight conference championship game appearance.
Mahomes, despite playing with a new cast of receivers, has completed 73% of his throws with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The defense has played well, too, and because the Chiefs started this season playing twice in five days, they even had extra time to prepare for Indy (0-1-1).
But Mahomes and coach Andy Reid know better than to buy the conventional wisdom.
“I know what their record is — you can put that aside. This is their first game back at home and they’ve got good talent and good coaches," Reid said. “As you saw — or as we all saw (Sunday) with that day off — anything goes on any Sunday.”
Besides, the Colts are motivated to prove the doubters wrong.
They've climbed out of big holes before by following an old formula — giving the ball to Jonathan Taylor, controlling the clock and stiffening up on defense. Indy didn't do any of those things well last week, but the Colts insist they will again.
All they have to do now is prove it.
“We’ve got to do a better job across the board — myself protecting it, we’ve got to be better up front, we’ve got to be better outside,” said Ryan, the NFL's 2016 MVP. “We’ve got guys that have been playing at a high level for a long time in this league. I just have belief that we have the right makeup and the guys have the right stuff in them.”
BETTER INDOORS OR OUTDOORS?
Mahomes has done just about everything since taking over as Kansas City’s full-time starting quarterback in 2018. He’s won a Super Bowl ring, been the league’s MVP and the Super Bowl MVP, selected to four straight Pro Bowls and continued to amass historic numbers.
And he’s done most of it while playing in a home stadium that can be susceptible to rain, snow and wind.
And while it’s unclear whether the Colts will open their retractable roof or keep it closed, Mahomes was asked this week about posting better stats indoors than outdoors.
“I think most quarterbacks are usually better in indoors,” he said. “But I think you just go out there and play the game. I never really notice it. I try to be better outdoors because that’s where we play, and I want the playoffs to be in GEHA Field at Arrowhead.”
Three-time All-Pro Bowl linebacker Shaquille Leonard missed the Colts first two games as he worked his way back into game shape following back surgery in June. But it sounds as if he could play Sunday.
Leonard told reporters Thursday he felt more explosive this week and was feeling much better than last week.
Indy also was missing its top two receivers Michael Pittman Jr. (calf) and Alec Pierce (concussion protocol) last week.
Coach Frank Reich won't likely make a decision about any of the three until at least Friday.
Leonard and Pierce were both full participants in Wednesday’s practice. Pittman did limited work.
“They’re both trending in the right direction,” Reich said Wednesday when asked about the receivers. “After last week, I’m hesitant to say anything because I thought they both were going to play last week. But they are trending in the right direction.”
The Chiefs will not be at full strength even if kicker Harrison Butker returns from an injured left ankle. It was announced this week Chiefs starting linebacker Willie Gay had been suspended for four games because he violated the league's personal conduct policy. He's expected to be replaced by Darrius Harris on a defense that has played well.
“He’s smart, he’s instinctive, he’s tough. He’s got a good grasp of the defense,” Reid said, referring to Harris. “(Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) does quite a few things within the scheme, so he’s got to be able to process all of that and he does a good job of that.”