The Colts still control their playoff destiny, even after losing, 23-20, to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
That's the lede here: The Colts will be a playoff team no matter what as long as they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars next weekend in northeast Florida.
But that doesn't erase the reverberating disappointment of falling short of a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week, which the Colts would've done with a win over the Raiders on Sunday.
"We're like anyone else, if you don't come and just lose a little bit of an edge, if you just let your guard down just a little bit, you can get beat in this league," head coach Frank Reich said. "So I didn't think that was going to happen today. I thought we'd come out and have the edge that was needed to finish it out this week and to go in with a ton of momentum next week, but we'll have to prepare this week. No givens next week."
The Colts know there are no givens in Week 18 for a few reasons.
The first is, again, the disappointment in how they played with a spot in the playoffs on the line. For the first time in Jonathan Taylor's career, the Colts lost when he ran for over 100 yards (Taylor rushed 20 times for 108 yards against the Raiders; the Colts were previously 12-0 when their star running back crossed the century mark).
The Colts won the turnover battle with two takeaways to the Raiders' zero and held running back Josh Jacobs to a shade under four yards per carry (16 carries, 63 yards). Both of their takeaways were interceptions of Derek Carr – by cornerback Isaiah Rodgers and linebacker Darius Leonard.
But there were a couple of big things that didn't go the Colts' way. They were just three of 11 on third down on offense. Carr completed four passes of 15 or more yards; his 42-yarder to Zay Jones was the second-longest completion the Colts have allowed since the start of November. And on special teams, the Colts' coverage unit allowed a 41-yard punt return by Hunter Renfrow, which led to a Raiders field goal in the first half.
"We knew they'd come out with a lot of energy, and they did," Reich said. "They executed well. They were coached well, and they played well. We just didn't quite coach well enough or play well enough in all three phases. It was a close game, it could have gone either way.
"This was a winning football team, right? A team who has a chance to make the playoffs. So, as much as we want to score 30 in every game and hold them under 20, doesn't always happen. So, you fight, and you scratch, and you claw. It was a closely contested game.
"Really, what it comes down to is making one better call on offense, defense or special teams or making one play on offense, defense or special teams somewhere along the line to put us in position to win that game."
The second reason why the Colts won't take anything for granted in Week 18 is that it's on the road against the Jaguars.
Sure, the Jaguars were walloped by the New England Patriots, 50-10, Sunday afternoon. And Jacksonville will clinch the No. 1 pick for the second consecutive NFL Draft with a loss to the Colts.
But the Colts know they haven't beat the Jaguars away from Indianapolis since 2014. Whether the game's been at TIAA Bank Field or in London, whether the Jaguars have been on their way to the AFC Championship or No. 1 pick, it hasn't mattered. A six-game losing streak is a six-game losing streak.
"We don't play good down there," wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "So better find a way, or we're going to be out."
(Technically, the Colts could still get in the playoffs with a loss. But we're not going to go down the headache-inducing path to the scenario that would get them there just now.)
The 9-7 Colts will enter Week 18 as the AFC No. 6 seed, sandwiched between the No. 5 Patriots (10-6) and No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers (9-7). There is no scenario in which the Colts do not make the playoffs with a win over the Jaguars; where they're seeded depends on the results of the Patriots-Dolphins and Chargers-Raiders games. A quick look at how that could play out (these are all with the Colts winning):
- Patriots, Chargers win: Colts No. 6 seed
- Patriots, Raiders win: Colts No. 7 seed
- Dolphins, Chargers win: Colts No. 5 seed
- Dolphins, Raiders win: Colts No. 6 seed
But the Colts have to beat the Jaguars first. This is the same spot this team was in a year ago, needing to beat the Jaguars to make the playoffs – only that game was at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So as the sting of Sunday's loss to the Raiders fades into prepping for Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars, the Colts will get back to work with a laser focus on one thing: Win and in.
"I mean we feel like there's been pressure every week," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "We had a slow start. It has just felt like it's been playoff football for a long time for us. Obviously today we didn't get it done, but we are excited for the opportunity to win, get in and then we have to win this one. First and foremost, we have to regroup from this one. Didn't play our best ball, hopefully put our best performance out there next week."