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After loss to Falcons, Colts' focus turns inward as AFC playoff race gets tighter

The Colts lost, 29-10, to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday but retained possession of the AFC No. 7 seed – for now. 

ATLANTA – As the Colts digested their 29-10 Week 16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the visiting locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they drew upon some words of wisdom dispensed by quarterback Gardner Minshew II. 

The message: Opportunities like the one still ahead of the Colts, even in the wake of Sunday's defeat, are not guaranteed in the NFL. The Colts are mostly in control of their playoff destiny (more on that later) with two games left in the 2023 regular season. A path to reaching the postseason for the first time since 2020 still very much exists, and the Colts are in position to earn their way in with home games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Houston Texans remaining. 

"I think you start looking at opportunities like this and you start counting wins, you start doing schedule math and you look around, it's like well, (Atlanta) lost to Carolina, well, we beat the Steelers," Minshew said. "Well, you know what, you got to go earn it right now. If you take this lightly you might not end up with another one.

"Everybody thinks you got all this time and you're gonna have all these chances to make playoff runs, and it doesn't work like that. We have to take advantage when we got them. And I'm excited to see how we respond and bring it next week."

The Colts on Sunday averaged 3.9 yards per play (their second-lowest average in 2023) and allowed 6.3 yards per play (third-highest).

The Falcons generated six explosive (10+ yard) runs and seven explosive (15+ yard) passes, as running back Bijan Robinson carved out 122 yards on 22 touches to pace the Atlanta offense. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor was held to 43 yards on 18 carries (2.4 yards/attempt) while Minshew completed 20 of 37 passes for 201 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 58.5. 

Atlanta ripped off 20 unanswered points after the Colts opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive. And after a Matt Gay 33-yard field goal got the Colts back within 10, the Falcons notched the final nine points of the game to earn a three-possession victory. The 10 points the Colts scored were tied for a season low. 

"It wasn't us," head coach Shane Steichen said. "It wasn't us, you know what I mean? You don't want to see it. You got to stop the bleeding and again, that starts with myself going forward. So, we got to get that corrected."

The Colts have been in this position before – just two weeks ago, they digested a 20-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and responded with a 30-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium. But all that emphasizes, players said after the game, is how much variance there is in the NFL. 

"It's a week to week league," Minshew said. "Wins don't carry over and neither do losses. We gotta take it into next week and go earn a win next week."

The Colts are, pending the 7-7 Denver Broncos' Sunday night game against the New England Patriots, one of four 8-7 teams in the AFC with two weeks left, along with the Bengals, Steelers and Houston Texans. The tiebreakers are convoluted and really won't matter until Week 18, but for now, the Colts have an advantage in a three- or four-way tie thanks to their 6-4 AFC record, which is the first tiebreaker used by the NFL if head-to-head is not applicable. 

But the Colts don't completely control their own destiny: If they win out and go 10-7, that would mean they would knock off the Texans, who would drop out of the group that could be tied for the AFC's No. 7 seed. If the Steelers and Broncos lose a game and the Bengals win out, it'd leave the Colts and Bengals tied with 10-7 records – and Cincinnati would make the playoffs by virtue of their Week 14 win over the Colts.

Table inside Article
Team Remaining opponents
Colts Raiders, Texans
Bengals @ Chiefs, vs, Browns
Texans vs. Titans, @ Colts
Steelers @ Seahawks, @ Ravens
Broncos vs. Patriots (Week 16), vs. Chargers, @ Raiders

The scoreboard watching can wait another week, though. As the Colts packed up to return to Indianapolis on Sunday, they did turning their focus inward – and also did so heeding Minshew's advice. 

"Don't take it for granted," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "Being in a situation in December where you could fight for a playoff spot and play meaningful football, don't take it for granted. Don't feel like you beat a team on paper because y'all supposed to be better than them. It's hard to win in this league.

"And unfortunately today was a lesson, but we still got two games left."

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