Matt Ryan never went through a losing season over his first five years in the NFL, and his Atlanta Falcons teams made the playoffs in four of those five seasons.
Then 2013 hit, and the Falcons fell off to a 4-12 record. A year later, they were 6-10. But just two years later, Ryan won NFL MVP and the Falcons made the Super Bowl.
Over the course of those losing seasons, and ones Ryan experienced more recently, the veteran quarterback discovered more about his teammates than he did when things were going well.
"Unfortunately I've been in this spot before," Ryan said. "It's never fun. You want to be driving the ship, you want to be the one where the division is running through it and you're playing for position and home field advantage. I also told the guys, in these kind of situations, I've learned more about players that I've played with than in really any other situation. And I've gained respect and lost respect for certain guys as you're going through these things."
The Colts are 4-7-1, having lost two games in a row and four of their last five contests, heading into Sunday night's primetime matchup against the surging Dallas Cowboys. From experience, Ryan has urged his teammates to focus on themselves, knowing these last five games of 2022 will have major implications on the rest of their careers – no matter if the Colts win or lose.
"Every time we step on that field it still matters," Ryan said. "We've got a young team, we got a lot of guys who this might be their first time going through that experience. Whether you're playing here or playing somewhere else, every time you put it out there, it's your resume. And there's a lot to play for."
Interim head coach Jeff Saturday delivered a similar message to his team, again speaking from experience.
"I draw on one of our worst years here, right, when Peyton was injured and we're 2-14 (in 2011)," Saturday said. "It was a miserable experience from a winning and losing (standpoint). But I told them, I learned so much about myself as a football player, as a man, as a leader in those kind of darkest days.
"... I encouraged guys — this will be a defining moment in your life. Do you love ball? Because it'll show up. Do you love the work, do you love the process? Because the results haven't been what we wanted, but how do we get ourselves to change the results portion is through the process and making sure we stay steadfast to that.
"And from a player perspective, them understanding the business of our game is that it's not only for the Colts now but the audition for 31 other teams is a very real thing in the NFL. And what you put on tape is what people believe about you. So if you want to be a legacy player or a type of player that people recognize, it doesn't matter what the record is. It's on you. Those numbers, you can't hide them on game field. So make sure you're representing that name and your number well."
This year's Colts, by the way, are nowhere near the depths of that 2011 season – while they currently have a losing record, this is a team that beat the current AFC No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs and has played one-score games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans. And the 2022 Colts are not eliminated from the playoffs yet, either. So there's still plenty for this team to play for – especially in front of a national audience on Sunday in Texas – both collectively and individually over the final five games of the season.
"It's the combination of trying to refine the things in practice, refine the things during meetings and in out walkthroughs, but also maintaining the self-belief that you're going to make plays in certain situations even though some of those things haven't gone your way throughout the year," Ryan said. "That's part of being a professional is getting yourself back up and having that strong self-belief that you're gonna make those plays."
Wednesday's practice report: