In the aftermath of a 15-point defeat in Week 18 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts were left to grapple with a numbingly disappointing reality.
Their season, one which seemed so vibrant and so promising just a few weeks ago, is over.
The Colts' 26-11 loss to the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Stadium – an arena in which they haven't won in since 2014 – came on the heels of last week's home loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. If the Colts won either game, they would've clinched a spot in the playoffs and turned their attention to bringing the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis.
Instead, the Colts will clean out their lockers, go through exit interviews and eventually shift their focus to making sure something like this never happens again.
"It's kind of a shock to everybody," center Ryan Kelly said. "There's not many words to describe it."
The Colts landed in Jacksonville on Saturday confident in the work they put in leading up to the game. Head coach Frank Reich felt like the Colts had a good week of practice and that there was good energy and focus his team's preparation.
A week ago, the Colts felt different – practice wasn't up to their standard, and they felt it showed in a 23-20 loss to the Raiders.
But this week wasn't the same.
"I knew last week wasn't the best of weeks for a couple different, I don't ever really feel like that, but last week was a little off and this week was back to normal," Reich said. "We were humming, great practice, great energy from top to bottom in every way. Was not expecting this."
The Jaguars converted six of their first eight first downs – including two of 10-plus yards on their first drive – and possessed the ball for nearly 19 of the game's first 30 minutes. At halftime, the Jaguars had 239 yards of offense and averaged 6.5 yards per play; the Colts had 75 yards on offense and averaged 3.9 yards per play.
Jonathan Taylor had only 18 yards on eight carries while Trevor Lawrence had a passer rating of 113.4 in the first half.
And then in the second half, Carson Wentz lost a fumble on a strip-sack and threw an interception (his first interception on the road this season). The Colts' defense couldn't keep the Jaguars out of the end zone after Wentz's interception, and all of a sudden, Jacksonville's lead ballooned to 20 points by the start of the fourth quarter.
"It sucks," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "We came in here and flat out got dominated. It sucks."
"We didn't play Colts football, and they dominated us on every end today," wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "I don't know what it is down here. They just keep on dominating us every time we come here."
The Colts in the coming hours and days will reflect on the opportunity lost this season. This team climbed out of an 0-3 and 1-4 hole to control its own destiny as the AFC's top wild card seed after beating the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas night. They coalesced around a remarkable season by Taylor, a ballhawking defense and a highlight-spinning special teams unit.
They felt like real contenders. But Sunday's loss to the Jaguars, coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers' overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, meant they'll won't get a chance to make good on that belief. And that finality is tough to comprehend with where the Colts were two weeks ago.
"Controlling your own destiny the last two weeks of the season to go in and not handle your business is a sting that'll hurt for a long time," Kelly said. "... We'll look at everything we can look at to figure it out but ultimately we just got beat today, and we got beat against the Raiders.
"As hard as that is to say, after some of the big, monster wins that we've had, just for a season to end this way after all that we've gone through, what we started off at and digging ourselves such a big hole, to climb out of that and get back on top, on top of the wild card in the AFC, to mess up the last two games — it hurts, man."