INDIANAPOLIS – The MVP-level performance this season by running back Jonathan Taylor won't mean as much. The same could be said about all the turnovers linebacker Darius Leonard forced this season. Go ahead throw in receiver Michael Pittman Jr.’s 1,000-yard receiving season too.
That’s because a loss would mean Indianapolis’ season would end without a spot in the playoffs and also give them one fewer opportunity to win the multiple Super Bowl titles this decade that owner Jim Irsay discussed back in October.
“We don’t want to come this far for nothing,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “We’re pretty much locked in. It’s easy to be motivated coming off a loss than it is a win. So, we’re motivated. We don’t like what we put on film in 2022. The only way to do that is correct it going into Jacksonville, where we haven’t done well. We just got to go out there and play Colts football, and we’ll be fine.”
The Colts scraped and clawed their way to a 9-7 record after starting the season 0-3 and then 1-4. They went through a stretch where they won eight out of 10 games to bring some buzz to the team about them potentially being Super Bowl contenders in the AFC.
Now the only thing standing in their way from playing on wild-card weekend or starting their offseason vacation early next week are those woeful Jaguars, a team that has not lost to the Colts in Jacksonville since the 2014.
Not only would the Colts be embarrassed by giving the Jaguars (2-14) just their third win of the season, but roster questions will likely come into play with a loss.
Is Carson Wentz the long-term answer at quarterback?
How will the Colts find their next starting left tackle without a first-round pick this season?
Are Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle retiring?
Will the Colts get help for Pittman at receiver?
Those questions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon for the Colts. They'd rather start worrying about them next month, not next week.
“We don’t have a playoff spot,” Leonard said. “For the four years we’ve been here, we haven’t been past Round 2. So, I just don’t want guys to fall into the trap of when we were 1-4, everyone talked down on us. Then, once we went on that run, everybody started praising us. I feel like people felt like, they were accomplished and we did something. It’s not even that.
"So I just let them know you get one opportunity. It’s hard to get into the playoffs and it’s hard to win in this league. So, we got to make sure we can control what we can control. That’s just playing good, sound football in all three phases and just dominate and be the best team that’s out there on the field.”
A slippage in focus is the last thing the Colts can afford. They paid the price for it in the days heading into their Week 17 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
There was footage in this week's 'Hard Knocks' episode on HBO of Leonard talking to his teammates via Zoom about their mistakes in practice. There was also a portion of the episode where the normally mild-mannered Frank Reich had a conversation with his players about the same thing. The Colts lost 23-20 to the Raiders, which kept them from locking up a playoff spot.
The Colts say that was last week, and their focus this week has been much improved. It better be, because they have a playoff spot they want to lock up and a losing streak down in Jacksonville they want to end.
"[Jacksonville's] record has nothing to do with it," Colts safety Khari Willis said. "They’re going to try and spoil our season. We hadn’t won down there, that’s momentum for them to try and keep that alive. We feel like all our goals are right ahead of us. We like to deal with it with a 1-0 mentality, but we can look back at some of the things that we’ve come through and see what we’re capable of accomplishing and going out and executing, but this is an individual game.
"They had a lot of guys out last week, or whatever, and they got some guys back late, but they’re going to try and spoil our season. There’s no secret about that and we haven’t won down there. We got our hands full and got business to take care of to get to where we want to go.”