As Carson Wentz warmed up before the Colts' Week 17 game against the Las Vegas Raiders, he turned to running back Jonathan Taylor.
"You good?" asks Wentz.
"I'm good. You good?" says Taylor.
"I'm good," Wentz says.
"Then we good, then," says Taylor.
Wentz then adds: "The weirdest week of my NFL career."
To say the least.
"Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts" followed the Colts' continuing issues with COVID in Week 17, which included Wentz testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. As Liev Schreiber narrates that the NFL's protocols mean Wentz will miss Week 17, we of course already know what happened: The league aligned its isolation protocols with the CDC, requiring five days of isolation after a positive test instead of 10.
But "Hard Knocks" takes us inside the walls on 56th Street for an uncertain 24 hours before the NFL. There's offensive line coach Chris Strausser informing running backs coach Scottie Montgomery of Wentz's positive test, who then counts the number of days Wentz was expected to be out before the change in protocol.
Head coach Frank Reich, though, later informs his coaches that it's "not out of the realm of possibility" that Wentz plays on Sunday. But the Colts have to proceed with Sam Ehlinger as their starting quarterback with Wentz isolating at home.
Wentz, of course, gets activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, clears protocols and starts against the Raiders.
A highlight of not only the game, but of the episode, was the reaction to Wentz's 45-yard tip drill touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. Taylor Stallworth – who, for my money, has been a breakout star of "Hard Knocks" (who wouldn't want to play "Big Boy Golf" with him?) – has a tremendously stunned reaction. Hilton, back on the sideline, says "Gotta be living right. I'm living right." DeForest Buckner says the same thing: "T.Y. living right."
And Wentz catches veteran Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward on the field later in the game.
"I know, I know," Wentz says. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than be good."
It's not enough for the Colts, though, as they fall, 23-20, to the Raiders in Week 17. But Reich's speech to his team after the game puts everything in perspective.
"We gotta own it," Reich says. "They beat us in all three phases. They out-coached us and they out-played us. Coaches, we gotta get it right. I gotta get it right. I can't have us come out flat on offense, not execute, defense holds us in it. But the bottom line was in all three phases we just didn't make enough plays to beat a good team. And let it stinkin' sting a little bit. That should never happen here at our home turf. That should never happen.
"The good news is everything we want is still In front of us. We know we got the team, because we're the same team that's been dominating for about 12 weeks right now. So let's just learn from it. We control our own destiny and I'm still excited about what's in front of us because I know the team we got. And we can take anybody down at any time."
A touching part of Episode 8 was getting to see Colts Vice Chair/Owner Kalen Jackson present center Ryan Kelly with the game ball from the Colts' win over the Patriots, just as Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay promised. Kelly expresses to Jackson how much the gesture means to him – but there's more. In addition to the game ball, Jackson tells Kelly her father will donate $25,000 to a cause of the Kelly's choosing in honor of Mary Kate Kelly.
How the Colts took care of the Kelly family – and are taking care of the Kelly family – during their incredibly difficult time is remarkable, but is also is another example of what the organization is all about.
"Any person that enters this organization, it's gotta be more than just transactional," general manager Chris Ballard says. "I hope this makes sense. But it can't just be a transaction that we're bringing the player in and you do your job and you go home. I can't do my job that way, Frank can't do his job that way, Mr. Irsay can't do it. We have to connect and connect in a way where our players know we care, really deeply care.
"You can bulls––t your way through acting like you care but care comes through your actions. And look, it was hard. It was hard on Ryan Kelly and his wife, Emma. It was a very difficult, gut-wrenching tragedy that they went through. We wanted to be there and whatever needed to be done to help support the Kelly family."
Other highlights from Episode 8:
- Best cameo of the week easily is our colleague Larra Overton, who handled technical difficulties (and the NFL's new COVID protocols) like a champ while waiting to interview Reich over Zoom.
- Quote of the week goes to defensive line coach Brian Baker, who says of Derek Carr: "When this dude is hot, he's on fire. We gotta piss on that flame right away. And yes I did say piss on the flame."
- Great to see Baker's daughters get some air time. Baker's daughter, Jade, by the way, made some history earlier this year.
- There's a clip at the start of the episode from earlier this year with Wentz, Ehlinger and the Colts' quarterbacks playing a little golf on the holes on-site at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Fortunately, those guys are better at playing quarterback than they are sinking gimme putts. "First time I pulled out my putter in three months," laments Ehlinger after he missed what looked like a three-footer.
- After Jonathan Taylor broke Edgerrin James' single-season franchise rushing yardage record, Nyheim Hines had a quick chat with Quenton Nelson. "You gotta celebrate," Hines says. "You never know if you're going to have another season like that. Enjoy that s–t." Nelson: "He's going to have more seasons like that." Hines: "Oh, he is."