BALTIMORE —The Indianapolis Colts on Saturday fell to the Baltimore Ravens, 23-16, in their Week 16 matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts after falling to 3-12 on the year?
With so much on the line for the Baltimore Ravens in Saturday's Week 16 matchup, the Indianapolis Colts, at this point playing for pride, knew they'd have a late-season battle on their hands.
Photos from the week 16 game against the Baltimore Ravens
That's exactly what ended up playing out at M&T Bank Stadium, where a driving rainstorm fell for pretty much all four quarters, just two weeks after the Colts played through a blizzard in Buffalo.
The final result was a 23-16 loss for the Colts in which the Baltimore offense, which has been one of the top three units in all of football the second half of the season, simply wore down the Indy defense throughout. The Colts' offense, meanwhile, would only get as close as field goal range all night except one touchdown-scoring drive.
In the end, however, Indianapolis still had a shot to tie this thing up late. After a huge blocked punt by rookie inside linebacker Anthony Walker, the Colts were set up with a 1st and 10 at the Baltimore 27-yard line. If they could somehow find a way into the end zone, Indy could decide to kick the extra point and force a likely overtime, or, like they did against the Bills two weeks ago, they could try for a gutsy two-point attempt to try to escape with a victory instead.
But those choices wouldn't end up coming to fruition, however, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett was unable to hook up with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on 4th and 10 from the 13 — despite some pretty obvious contact between the receiver and cornerback Maurice Canady on the play — to put the ball on a knee for the Ravens.
It's another close call for the Colts, who return home for one final matchup next Sunday against the Houston Texans on New Year's Eve.
With 4:33 left in the fourth quarter, the Colts cut the Ravens' lead to seven, 23-16, off the foot of Adam Vinatieri, who connected from 30 yards out for his third field goal of the day. But now, Indianapolis needed to do something it hadn't done pretty much all day — force the Ravens' offense into a quick possession and a punt — to get the ball back with enough time on the clock to try to, at the very least, tie this thing up.
And the Colts' defense, in fact, responded, holding the Ravens to just one first-down conversion on the ensuing drive to force punter Sam Koch out on the field for just the third time all day.
Koch, who has been one of the more solid punters in the league this year, faced a 4th and 10 from his 41-yard linee, trying to do what he does best: pin the Colts deep in their own territory to set up a long field for the Colts to try to get something going with no timeouts.
But Anthony Walker had other plans.
The rookie out of Northwestern blasted through the protection off the snap and got his paws on the Koch punt, which bounced back and was recovered by fellow rookie outside linebacker Tarell Basham at the Baltimore 27-yard line.
The Colts, who blocked their first punt since Week 8 of the 2014 season, had signs of life.
But, as we know by now, Brissett and the offense were unable to find the end zone from there, and will fly home with another tough loss.
Still, the play was a great sign from a younger group of Colts players that they* can*, indeed, step up at the most critical times. Baltimore is hanging on for dear life for a spot in the postseason, so they certainly haven't mailed it in, so put this film in the "positives" category for the offseason.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Frank Gore continues to amaze.
While his quest for a second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season now seems to be perhaps a bit unrealistic — he'll need 139 yards in the season finale against the Texans to get there — Gore continues to display the tough-smart running style that has put him in the Top 5 all-time in rushing in NFL history, deep into his 13th NFL season.
But it was a play in the passing game that was Gore's highlight on Saturday.
After the Ravens had a long 10-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to go up 10-0 early in the second quarter, the Colts responded, going 75 yards on nine plays. On that ninth play, Indy faced a 2nd and 10 from the Baltimore 14-yard line, when quarterback Jacoby Brissett found Gore on the well-executed screen play.
From there, Gore was able to follow the lead of multiple offensive linemen lead blocking up front, and then made a couple nifty moves to get a sniff of the end zone. Once in close enough proximity, Gore dove all-out for the corner, getting into the end zone for the 14-yard touchdown play, his first receiving touchdown of the season (and the 17th of his career; sixth with the Colts).
Gore finished his day with 17 carries for 68 yards — a 4.0 yards-per-carry average — while he had two catches for 18 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• It won't necessarily show up in the stat sheet, but outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard was a one-man wrecking crew for the Colts' defense on Saturday. He finished his day with three tackles, one quarterback hit and two passes defensed, but he was constantly beating the man — and, in some cases the men — in front of him to harass quarterback Joe Flacco. One one play in particular late in the second quarter, Sheard burst through and almost took down Flacco for a huge loss, but his pressure alone helped fellow outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo get enough time to bring down the quarterback for the sack and a loss of 17 yards. Sheard has been one of the best in the league at pressuring the quarterback this season, and Colts fans should be excited about him getting another offseason under his belt to continue working on his skills heading into 2018.
• Walker had a marquee day overall: not only did get get that big blocked punt late in the fourth quarter, but he made his first-career start at inside linebacker in place of Jon Bostic, who was placed on injured reserve this past week with a knee injury. Walker finished his day with eight tackles, including a stop for a loss of four yards on a Flacco pass to running back Alex Collins midway through the first quarter. Due mostly to a hamstring issue, Walker hadn't had a defensive snap the whole season until last Thursday's game against the Denver Broncos, but he's getting some quality experience down the stretch here to also head into the offseason with some momentum.
• After a tough stretch of games, No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was a major target for Brissett the entire day, and he finished his day with 12 targets overall, catching six of them for 100 yards. It's the 28th-career 100-yard performance of Hilton's career, which ranks third in Colts franchise history.
• Rookie cornerback Kenny Moore II had a solid performance in the stat sheet, finishing with a game-best nine tackles, including one for a loss, with one pass defensed and his first-career forced fumble.
• Since Week 8, the Ravens, entering Saturday's game, ranked third in the NFL in scoring at 30.7 points per game. Although they went with more of a grind-it-out approach on Saturday, the Colts held them more than a touchdown less than that average. The Ravens had averaged 371 yards of offense since Week 8 entering the Colts game, but were held to 323 on Saturday.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• As previously mentioned, the Ravens simply wore down the Colts drive after drive after drive. In all, the Ravens possessed the ball for 35 minutes and 48 seconds on the day, compared to the Colts' time of possession of 24 minutes and 12 seconds. Baltimore would average 12 plays and 59 yards on its five scoring drives, and it was mostly without a potent rushing attack, as the Ravens ran the ball 32 times for 103 yards, for only 3.2 yards per carry.
• Joe Flacco was able to find targets all over the field to continue his late-season surge, as he finished his day completing 29-of-38 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns, for a QB rating of 109.2. He connected on passes to 10 different receivers, five of whom caught three or more footballs on the day.
• The Colts had cut the Ravens' lead to 16-10 midway through the third quarter and had a chance to even take the lead late in the period when they faced a 2nd and 12 from the Baltimore 26. The officials threw a flag for offsides on the snap, meaning a free play for Brissett, who connected for an 11-yard pass, which would've set up 3rd and 1 from the 15. But instead, the Colts decided to take the penalty, setting up a 2nd and 7 from the 21. After a Gore run for four yards, the Colts faced 3rd and 3, and called a read-option, in which Brissett kept the ball and was stuffed for a loss of three. Vinatieri would get a 38-yard field goal to cut the Ravens' lead to 16-13, but it was certainly a tough sequence.
• The Colts had gone more than four years since they last had a blocked field goal, a streak that ended on Saturday. With 1:18 left in the first quarter and the Ravens up 3-0, Vinatieri set up for a 38-yard field goal attempt. But safety Tony Jefferson was able to break through the protection up front and knock the attempt down at the 29-yard line, keeping his team's early lead in-tact. It was the first blocked kick against the Colts since Nov. 3, 2013, when Houston's J.J. Watt swatted down a kick attempt.
• No Colts players left Saturday's game with injuries. Wide receiver Chester Rogers was assisted off the field at the 6:44 mark in the fourth quarter, but he was able to return.WHAT'S NEXT
The Colts wrap up the 2017 season next Sunday, when they play host to the Houston Texans in their New Year's Eve matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET on CBS. The Texans enter their next game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night with a 4-10 record; Indianapolis defeated Houston, 20-14, back in their Week 9 matchup at NRG Stadium.