Indianapolis Colts need to savor bye then 'hit the ground running' for playoff push

INDIANAPOLIS – There was plenty of eye rolling, questioning and displeasure by some in the Indianapolis Colts organization when the NFL schedule came out back in the spring and they saw their bye wouldn’t be until Week 14.

“When I saw it, it was terrible,” linebacker Darius Leonard said after the Colts shut out the Houston Texans 31-0 on Sunday.

The tune has changed from many with the Colts after they survived the first 13 weeks of the season -- dealing with foot, ankle, groin and an assortment of other injuries.

The Colts will have Week 14 off to rest and come back ready, because their first two games after the bye will likely dictate their postseason fate, starting on Dec. 18, (Saturday, 8:20 ET), with Bill Belichick and the 8-4 New England Patriots, a team the Colts have not beaten since 2009. The Colts follow that up with a Christmas night game at the Arizona Cardinals (10-2).

“I feel like every game for us is a playoff game, but I know our next two are against playoff teams,” Colts running back Nyheim Hines said. “If we want to go to the playoffs and go where we want to go, we have to beat teams and play with teams like that.”

The Colts will meet Monday for a video session and team photo before the players take the rest of the week off. The coaching staff will work on corrections and start preparing for the Patriots through Wednesday and then take the rest of the week off.

What the Colts have going for them is that they don’t have any significant injuries they’re dealing with It’s more of maintenance issues for those dealing with lingering aches and bruises, like Leonard and his season-long ankle problems. Center Ryan Kelly should be back after he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Dec. 4.

“I thought it would be a long stretch,” Colts coach Frank Reich said about the wait to get to the bye week. “Now that we’re here, we’re healthy and we know the challenge we have in front of us. [The bye] is coming at a great spot.”

The Colts (7-6) head into the bye winners of six of their past eight games to maintain their glimmer of hope to make the playoffs. They capped off the first 13 weeks by shutting out Houston, their first shutout since 2018 against Dallas and first road shutout since they blanked New England in 1992.

“[Receiver] T.Y. [Hilton] said it best Saturday, ‘Good teams play down to the level of their competition, but great teams dominate the whole game,’ ” Leonard said. “So, wanted to come out and completely dominate.”

This is the fourth time in as many seasons that the Colts are in the playoff hunt in the month of December under Reich. They made the playoffs in two of those three season. They still have some work to do to make it this season, as they’re 10th in the AFC.

“Honestly, it’s December, everything feels like a playoff game,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “We know where we’re at, what’s at stake. Once it’s December, it’s go time. We always have that feeling … You would love to be in the driver’s seat, love to be a little more ahead of the game, so to speak, but makes it fun. Fun atmosphere. The way the AFC is so wide open, every game is so important.”

The fun for the Colts includes three of those four games being against teams right in the thick of the playoff race. For so many years it was Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck vs. Brady, in the many Colts vs. Patriots matchups. Now it’ll be Wentz vs. Patriots rookie Mac Jones. It really doesn’t matter who is playing quarterback for either team. Indianapolis needs to find a way to beat the Patriots for the first time in 12 years.

The other team they’ll face, outside of the Patriots and Cardinals, that’s in the mix for the postseason is the Las Vegas Raiders (6-6). The Colts may need to go at least 2-1 against those teams to keep their playoff aspirations alive.

“I think we all know we have an uphill battle,” Reich said. “No time for scoreboard watching for us. Have to take them one at a time. We have to be on point with all those games.”

Leonard said, “The bye week is here. Four games left. Hopefully we can all get fresh, come home and hit the ground running on the 18th … When we come back, we have a point to prove and we have a goal we’re trying to reach.”