INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts players spent the early part of this week revealing the unvarnished truth about their historic loss at Minnesota.
They called it disappointing and embarrassing, and it's not the first time they've used those descriptions this season or even this month.
Just nine days after allowing the largest comeback in NFL history and three weeks after yielding the second-highest fourth-quarter point total in league history, the Colts hope to use Monday night's prime-time slot to stage a memorable rebound against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Like any week, whether you have a great game or the worst game, you've got to learn from it, aim to get better and put your best foot forward,” veteran safety Rodney McLeod Jr. said. “We've had time to view what happened, how it happened and what we need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.”
For the Colts (4-9-1), moving beyond disappointments has been a major challenge all season.
It started with an opening-week tie at Houston and a Week 2 shutout in Jacksonville. Then came the October benching of quarterback Matt Ryan, the November firing of coach Frank Reich and a four-turnover fourth quarter that Dallas used to score 33 points the first weekend in December.
After a late bye, the Colts returned to the field last week only to blow a 33-0 halftime lead and allowing the Vikings to clinch the NFC North with a 39-36 overtime victory.
Now, as the Colts attempt to put those two historically poor performances in the past, interim coach Jeff Saturday has benched Ryan again and demoted him to No. 3 on the depth chart, behind new starter Nick Foles and Sam Ehlinger who went 0-2 as the starter earlier this season.
“He knows how to handle it, how to get in and make adjustments with the guys,” Saturday said of Foles. “From his perspective, this is old hat for him and hopefully he'll have as much success with us as he's had in other places and lead these guys to a win.”
If any team understands the Colts plight, it might be the Chargers (8-6).
They failed to reach the Super Bowl despite pairing running back LaDainian Tomlinson with quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers for nearly a decade, and their playoff drought hit three years when the rival Raiders won 35-32 in overtime last January in the NFL's final regular-season game.
Still, Justin Herbert & Co. responded this season with coach Brandon Staley by starting 4-2 only to lose four of the next six.
Now, though, the Chargers (8-6) have won two straight, are No. 6 in the AFC standings and will know before taking the field Monday whether they can clinch a playoff spot with a win in Indy or if they must wait another week.
“It's the best we have probably played all season,” Staley said, reflecting on the past two games. “There were a couple of performances we had that, I think, were similar but to have them back-to-back against two quality teams, that is what you're shooting for this time of year.”
To keep it going, Staley knows the Chargers must keep their foot on the accelerator against a reeling team.
Foles will be the Colts' third starter this season and Saturday hasn't said who will replace the injured Jonathan Taylor (ankle), the 2021 NFL rushing champ, in the lineup for the final three games.
Indy's usually strong defense has been unable to protect late leads in three of the past four games, all losses, and a win would help it throw the two most forgettable games into the trash heap.
Indy was here once before, in 1997, when it blew a 26-point lead at Buffalo and lost 37-35 in overtime. The Colts lost their next six and wound up getting the No. 1 overall draft pick, which they used on Peyton Manning.
And though the draft stakes aren't that high this time around, Staley knows what to expect Monday night — a hungry team with something to prove.
“We're going to be prepared for their best,” he said. “All you have to do is watch the game film and watch them compete every time they play. Their guys play extremely hard, and they have a lot of good players. We're expecting a really tough game.”
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