Colts hope to get right against revenge-minded Panthers

Nov. 4—INDIANAPOLIS — Zaire Franklin grew up in blue-collar Philadelphia, and he has no patience for anything with even the slightest whiff of artificiality.

So it should come as no surprise the star linebacker declined to wax poetically this week on the virtues of the Indianapolis Colts having 10 games remaining this season.

"No, honestly, because I feel like that's a loser's mentality," Franklin said. "Like when you kind of get to this point where, 'Oh, don't worry about losing because we have more games to accomplish (our goals).' Nah, urgency is now. It's not a life-or-death situation to where everybody's gotta be tight, nobody can have fun. We all just need to lock in.

"That's weird, but I would just say it's more of a sense of, 'Look, man, we gotta handle our issues now. We gotta address our problems now.' Yes, we have more opportunities, but the biggest thing is getting back on track this week."

Week 9 its too early to label a game as "must win," but the Colts (3-5) certainly need a sense of urgency Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (1-6).

Indianapolis has lost three straight games, and the defense has surrendered an average of 38 points during the slump. The Colts fell from playing the Jacksonville Jaguars with first place in the AFC South on the line Oct. 15 to last place in the division after last week's 38-27 loss against the New Orleans Saints.

It raises the specter of last season's disastrous meltdown.

On Oct. 23, 2022, Indianapolis was 3-2-1 and playing the Tennessee Titans on the road for first place in the AFC South. A day later, veteran quarterback Matt Ryan was benched following a 19-10 loss to the Titans. A week after that, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady was fired and running back Nyheim Hines was traded to the Buffalo Bills. The following week, Frank Reich was relieved of his duties — becoming the first head coach to be fired during the season in owner Jim Irsay's tenure.

The Colts finished 4-12-1 and spent much of the final two months as the laughingstock of the league.

It's not an experience anyone who went through cares to repeat.

"Somebody has to make a play, and that's what it comes down to. We got to finish," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "These past couple of game, it's really been on us (as a defense). The offense has scored enough points. It's our job to keep the opponent out of the end zone, and we haven't been doing our job lately."

Indianapolis ranks sixth in the NFL with an average of 25.6 points per game and is the only team to have scored at least 20 points in every game this season.

But the defense is last in the league with an average of 28.6 points per game allowed.

The hope is things can get right this week against a familiar face.

Reich landed as the head coach of the Panthers during the offseason, and Sunday's game will be played just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of his firing with the Colts.

Despite playing No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young at quarterback, Carolina has struggled offensively. The Panthers are 25th in scoring (18.1 points per game), 31st in average yards per pass attempt (4.6) and 23rd in average yards per rushing attempt (3.8).

But the Panthers are coming off the high of a 15-13 victory against the Houston Texans last week, and Reich has a history of turning slow starts into fast finishes. He was 1-5 during his first season in Indianapolis in 2018 before going 9-1 down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs and beating the Texans in the divisional round.

Carolina figures to have a little extra juice this week, playing against their head coach's former team.

Reich told reporters in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week he harbors nothing but love and respect for the Colts, and coaches and players moving on is an inevitable part of the game.

But he also admitted this week feels a little different.

"Yeah, it always means a little bit more," Reich said. "For some people when that happens, it may mean more in a vengeful way. I don't look at it like that. Motivated? Yes. Highly motivated? Yes. It's just a different perspective.

"Both can be true. It's just another game, but you also understand it's a different dynamic. I think both of those things can be true."

Indianapolis head coach Shane Steichen spent two years with Reich on the San Diego Chargers' offensive staff nearly a decade ago. Both men have a mutual respect for one another, and there likely won't be any secrets when they meet on the field.

So the game could come down to its most basic element: Execution.

"I think a lot of these games are about execution," Steichen said. "You cross over paths with a lot of guys in this league, but it does — it comes down to the details and fundamentals and the execution and making a big play in big-time moments to create momentum for your football team."