EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Colts on Sunday were left to digest another loss, their sixth in a row and this one by a 38-10 margin to the playoff-bound New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
This is a team that, collectively, has never felt like its effort has been lacking. Practices have been spirited and competitive; players have spent countless hours preparing their minds and bodies in film and training rooms; coaches – especially on a short-staffed offensive side of the ball – have put in long hours trying to get this thing right.
And the results have been disheartening for everyone involved – because they've been the same for far too many games to stomach in a 4-11-1 season.
"Everybody kind of takes turns, so no one answer — wish there was," interim head coach Jeff Saturday said. "It's been season-long and obviously frustrating for everybody."
Against the Giants, the Colts weren't able to establish an offensive rhythm even after wide receiver Parris Campbell hauled in a 49-yard heave from quarterback Nick Foles in the first quarter. That deep completion resulted in the Colts' only points until the late in the third quarter – a 23-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal, which gave the Colts an early lead but also represented the team's season-long issues executing in the red zone.
From there, the Giants ripped off 31 unanswered points. Quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley powered a pair of extended scoring drives (11 plays, 71 yards; 9 plays, 64 yards), then late in the second quarter Landon Collins stepped in front of a Foles pass and took it for a 48-yard pick six.
After Foles sustained a scary-looking rib injury on a third down sack by Giants rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Giants added a field goal at the end of the first half to extend their lead to 24-3.
"From a season-long perspective, just haven't made enough plays," Saturday said. Whether it's you have a big play and a penalty brings you back, when the quarterback makes a throw, whether it's turnovers, there's been enough mistakes that you're just not going to generate offense in the NFL.
The Colts got a burst of momentum out of halftime when cornerback Stephon Gilmore forced a fumble, which was recovered by safety Rodney McLeod Jr., on the first play of the third quarter. But the offense – with Sam Ehlinger in at quarterback for the injured Foles – went three and out, and McLaughlin missed a 44-yard field goal.
The Giants quickly marched 62 yards on six plays for a touchdown to go up 31-3. While Ehlinger did throw his first career touchdown – a six-yard strike to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. – the Giants pulled most of their starters after Jones rumbled for a 10-yard touchdown to put New York up, 38-10, early in the fourth quarter.
"We practice hard, but effort and want-to has never been an issue in this building," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "Practicing hard in Week 17, we're doing our best. All of it's gotta translate to Sunday. You gotta take that confidence and that playmaking ability you have on the practice field and do it in the games. That comes from repetition, that comes from trusting yourself and trusting the situation."
Saturday knew he had a challenge ahead of him when he accepted Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay's offer to be the team's interim head coach in early November. Teams don't change coaches mid-season if things are going well, after all.
"I knew it was gonna be an uphill battle, I knew it was going to tough days and I feel for the guys," Saturday said. "I feel for the players. These guys put a ton of work in and you want them to be successful, and you try to arm them with as much as you can to let them be successful. And unfortunately, we're not making enough plays and they haven't had the type of success I would've hoped for them."
While digesting their Week 17 defeat, Colts players focused on the final opportunity for the 2022 version of this team to go out with a win. Campbell said the team feels "desperate" for a win at this point; several players noted what center Ryan Kelly did: "Nothing's guaranteed in this league," he said.
While the 2022 season has not been what anyone in the visiting locker room at MetLife Stadium expected it'd be, it's not over yet. And there's one more opportunity, next weekend against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium, for the players on this team and the coaches on the sideline to do what they were brought here to do: Win.
"The locker room, the team will not look the same next year," Kelly said. "Go out there and leave it on the field."