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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Week 18: Why Shane Steichen called pass play to Tyler Goodson, Jonathan Taylor goes off and C.J. Stroud sends Texans to playoffs

The Colts' 2023 season ended with a 23-19 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are five big things we learned from the Colts' final game of the year:

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1. Why Shane Steichen called that fourth-and-one pass to Tyler Goodson.

With the ball on the 15 yard line, the Colts trailing by six and facing a fourth-and-one with 65 seconds left, the Texans showed a man-to-man coverage look on defense. Steichen called a short-yardage play the Colts worked on in practice leading up to Saturday, with wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. running vertically to push the cornerback across from him into the linebacker tasked with covering running back Tyler Goodson. 

If all went according to plan, Goodson would be open in the flat with room to not just pick up the first down, but gain extra yardage – possibly to set the Colts up with a goal-to-go set of downs with the season on the line. 

Goodson got open, with linebacker Blake Cashman tied up trying to get over the top of Pittman. Gardner Minshew II's pass was behind Goodson. The ball hit Goodson in the hands, then fell to the turf, effectively ending the Colts' season. 

"We saw the front they were in and we liked the look for that play in that situation," Steichen said.

The Colts practiced the play with Goodson the intended target all week. 

"Felt good about Goodson in that situation," Steichen said. "He's a pass catcher for us in the backfield and it is what it is."

After the game, Steichen fielded questions about why the ball didn't go to running back Jonathan Taylor – who rushed for 188 yards on Saturday – in that situation. But the play worked as it was designed, it just wasn't executed. 

Steichen, though, put the onus for the failed fourth-and-one on himself. 

"I take full responsibility when plays don't work," Steichen said. "It starts with myself. We hit them, they are great, right? We don't, obviously it's going to get questioned. I completely understand it."

Both Goodson and Minshew each took responsibility for their roles in the play, too. 

Ultimately, though, Steichen's trust in his players is unwavering. And the next time the Colts are in the same situation, whether it's with a drive, a game or the season on the line, he'll continue to trust his players to execute his play call. 

"I have a ton of faith in everyone that's on this team that goes out there and fights," Steichen said. "Whoever has an opportunity to make a play, we have full faith in those guys, and sometimes it doesn't work. That's part of the game. Learn from it. Obviously this one stings."

2. Steichen called timeout before the play to make sure the Colts got the right look.

On third-and-two, Taylor was stopped for a one-yard rush, setting up the fourth down play. The Colts lined up and Minshew tried to draw the Texans offsides, but Houston's front didn't bite. Steichen called the first of his three timeouts, leaving the Colts with only two chances to stop the clock if the play didn't work. 

The reasoning, Steichen said, was the Colts wanted to see what defense the Texans were in to get the playcall right – an "if they do this, we do that" type of thing. 

"Really wanted to see the look to get in a call that we thought would work in that fourth-down situation," Steichen said. "That was basically it."

After the turnover on downs, the Colts got three stops on defense, leading punter Cameron Johnston to run out of the end zone for a safety with one second left on the clock. The Colts' hopes for a miracle ended when Michael Pittman Jr.'s lateral attempt on the ensuing post-safety punt was recovered by Houston.

3. Missed opportunities on defense were costly.

No game comes down to one single play, and there were plenty of opportunities for the Colts to take control of Saturday's game before that fourth-and-one. On defense, the Colts settled down after C.J. Stroud hit wide receiver Nico Collins for a 75-yard touchdown on Houston's first offensive play, but two critical plays in the fourth quarter swung momentum back to the Texans. 

With the score tied at 17 early in the fourth quarter, safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. came screaming off the edge and sacked Stroud for a loss of 10, setting up a second-and-20 from Houston's 28-yard line. Stroud then threw complete to tight end Dalton Schultz along the far sideline, but Schultz avoided a tackle by cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. and turned the throw into a 17-yard gain. 

Stroud ripped a five-yard completion to Schultz on the next play for a first down. 

A holding penalty then backed the Texans up into a first-and-20, and a six-yard completion to Schultz set up a second-and-14 on the Houston 46-yard line. Stroud dropped back, didn't have anyone open, and the Colts' defensive line put second-effort pressure on the rookie quarterback. As Stroud bailed from the pocket and backpedaled, Collins stopped his route, then took off sprinting from the field to boundary with cornerback Jaylon Jones trailing in coverage. 

Stroud floated a pass toward the far sideline, and Collins dove to catch it for a first down. A few plays later – after EJ Speed dropped running back Devin Singletary for a three-yard tackle for a loss – Stroud connected on a 23-yard strike to Collins on second-and-13 to get Houston to the doorstep of the end zone. 

Collins finished with nine catches for 195 yards with a touchdown, while Stroud completed 20 of 26 passes for 264 yards with two touchdowns. 

"Really good players in this league are going to make plays," Steichen said. "You just got to control those plays so they don't get out of hand. But, I thought our defense fought like crazy, you know what I mean. They had some good stops there. Obviously, the big play on the first drive – that was that and then we held them pretty good. Shoot, offensively, starts with myself – we've got to be better."

4. Jonathan Taylor went off.

The final memory Taylor left from the 2023 season – which saw him miss the first four games of the year while on PUP, sign a contract extension, undergo thumb surgery and return for the stretch run – was one of the star running back's best, toughest games of his career. 

It wasn't just that Taylor rushed for 188 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown against one of the NFL's top run defenses. In the second half, Taylor sustained an ankle/foot injury that first sent him to the blue injury tent on the Colts' sideline, then to the locker room. His official status was listed as doubtful to return. 

But Taylor willed his way back on the field for the biggest drive of the season, and his rushes helped push the Colts into the red zone with a chance to win and make the playoffs. 

"That's kind of been the whole year for him," Minshew said. "He's battling through one thing or another. But it's days like today where you realize you need J.T., you know what I'm saying. He's that kind of guy. He kept us in the ballgame with some of the amazing stuff he's doing. For guys like that, you wish you could do more."

With the season on the line, the Colts hung with the Texans because of Taylor. 

"That's why you pay a guy like that," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said.

5. The Colts weren't ready to talk about what this all means just yet.

The focus, eventually, will flip to the 2024 offseason. There are plenty of days and weeks to start digging into what next year's Colts team – with Anthony Richardson back at quarterback – could look like. 

But on Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday morning, no one on the Colts was ready to entertain those thoughts. The crushing defeat and abrupt end to a special season came with the acknowledgement that this exact team – the 53-man roster and practice squad – will never be together again. 

"It's a culmination of a season you think's going to keep going," center Ryan Kelly said. "To come down to a stop like that with this talented of a team, this great of a team — it's not just the talent we go out and play with on Sunday, it's the caliber of men. It's a tough one to swallow."

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