NASHVILLE — DeForest Buckner, unfortunately, knows what a bad team looks like.
The San Francisco 49ers went 2-14 when he was a rookie. A year later, they went 6-10. A year after that, they went 4-12.
And Buckner relayed his up-close experience of playing on those sub-optimal teams to coach Frank Reich and a few teammates in the wake of the Colts falling to 0-3 with a 25-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
"I've been a part of a couple bad teams in my career," Buckner said, "and we're far from it."
A lot of players on this 2021 Colts team remember what it was like to be cast as a bad team three years ago, when a 1-5 start seemingly doomed Reich's first year as the team's head coach. Then the Colts started winning. And winning some more. Nine victories in their next 10 games vaulted the Colts into the playoffs that year.
So for players who were on that team — like running back Nyheim Hines — there's no panic.
"A lot of teams may not be able to come back from this," Hines said. "But I think we are."
Still, the prevailing emotions for the Colts on Sunday afternoon were anger, frustration, and a general sense of just being pissed off.
"S—t sucks," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "That sucks. Especially being a true f—ing competitor, that sucks. It sucks being 0-3. It's a sick taste in my mouth."
This team knows they're better than 0-3. They're seeing flashes of it, but it's not coming consistently enough and it's not coming in complementary ways on both sides of the ball.
Hines jetted nine yards for a touchdown on the Colts' first red zone possession on Sunday, but in the second half, the offense stalled at the Titans' five- and nine-yard lines, forcing them to settle for short field goals instead of touchdowns.
"I know for sure we are getting better, we're getting down there (into the red zone) more," Hines said. "And really even kicking more field goals. We really just have to go score. And I promise you we will do everything in our power to do that."
On defense, Kenny Moore II and Darius Leonard had interceptions and Rock Ya-Sin had a spectacular strip of wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine inside the red zone. But the Titans converted half of their third downs and their lone fourth down try; the only drives in which they didn't pick up two or more first downs came on the first and final possessions of the game (the latter of which was just two kneel downs to run out the clock).
And on third and goal from the 10 early in the fourth quarter, Ryan Tannehill found running back Jeremy McNichols for a touchdown, which was followed by a two-point conversion that put the Titans up by two scores.
"We need to learn to play complementary football," Buckner said. "We gotta take advantage of opportunities when we get them. We can't have, the past three weeks we've had spurts where the offense was hot and defense was cold, defense was hot, offense was cold. We gotta learn to work together and take advantage of those opportunities."
The Colts' mindset after watching the film Monday will be to flush this loss and focus on next week's matchup against Jacoby Brissett and the Miami Dolphins. They'll do so working to channel the frustration of another loss into a good week of practice while focusing on their mantra of trying to go 1-0 every week.
So yes, this team is frustrated and angry with how the start to the 2021 season has gone. But they're working to channel those emotions into something positive — as they did three years ago — instead of channeling them into hitting the panic button just three games into a 17-game season.
"I have full confidence and belief in the players that we have, the coaching staff we have," Reich said. "Zero doubt. Zero doubt. We'll take one at a time and right now all that matters is the Miami Dolphins."