Insider: Colts need to finish off top teams but Frank Reich is better at it than you think

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  • Indianapolis Colts
    Indianapolis Colts
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Frank Reich
    Frank Reich
    American football player and coach

INDIANAPOLIS — Three disheartening losses haunt a Colts team that still has a good chance to make the AFC playoff field, but could already be in the playoff picture and in the hunt for an AFC South title if Indianapolis had been able to finish off any of the three with a win.

First, it was Baltimore, then the second game against Tennessee, and finally, Sunday’s last-minute loss to Tampa Bay.

The Colts lost all three games for different reasons.

But the feeling at the end remains the same.

“What’s not encouraging is that we have had three games against playoff teams that we’ve had double-digit leads, and we haven’t been able to close those games out,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “The responsibility for that starts with me as the head coach. I’ve got to do a better job.”

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich looks out to the field before facing the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich looks out to the field before facing the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Reich is right that the Colts need to finish off more games against playoff-caliber teams, particularly if the Colts are going to make the playoffs.

Indianapolis has two games left against top-tier teams, the first on Dec. 18 against New England and the second a week later in Arizona on Christmas Day, plus a Jan. 2 game against the 6-5 Raiders.

The three losses have sparked, in some circles, an examination of Reich’s overall record against playoff teams in his four seasons as Colts head coach, particularly the fact that Indianapolis is 1-9 in its past 10 games against 2020 playoff teams, a streak that begins right after the Colts picked up back-to-back wins over the Packers and Titans, teams that made the playoffs in 2021.

Two-thirds of the way into the 2021 season, the NFL is far past the point when a 2020 playoff berth marks a 2021 team as playoff-caliber. Six teams — the Colts are one — that made the 2020 playoff field would not be in the 2021 playoffs if the postseason started today. No team should be getting credit for beating a “playoff team” with a win over Chicago, Pittsburgh or the Seahawks right now. Enough of the 2021 season has been played.

Even with that update taken into account, Indianapolis needs to be better against playoff-caliber teams in 2021; the Colts are currently 2-5 against teams that would make the playoffs if they started today, with wins over San Francisco and Buffalo.

But that does not mean that the Colts have been worse against playoff teams under Reich than most of the NFL.

Indianapolis ranks in the top 10 in winning percentage against playoff teams since Reich took over in 2018.

The Colts were 8-11 against playoff teams from 2018-2020, compiling a .421 winning percentage that ranked ninth in the NFL. Add in games against the current 2021 playoff field — admittedly a potential problem, given that the playoff picture is constantly changing — and the Colts are 10-16, a .385 winning percentage that ranks eighth-best in the NFL against playoff teams since Reich took over.

Only six NFL teams — the Saints, Ravens, Chiefs, Rams, Packers and Patriots — are .500 or better since 2018 against playoff teams. (The Rams are knocked out of that group if their 1-4 mark against current 2021 playoff teams is taken into account.) Those six teams also have the six best winning percentages of any NFL team in those four years; the Colts are 34-26 under Reich, a .567 winning percentage that ranks Indianapolis 11th in the NFL over that span; despite using a different starting quarterback each season.

Ultimately, the Colts would like to join the ranks of those elite teams, the teams that have held their own against playoff-caliber teams on a year-in, year-out basis.

For that to happen, and for Indianapolis to start closing out the double-digit leads it has been building against playoff-caliber teams, Reich believes the Colts must collectively take the next step and find one more big play, one more big moment.

A stop, any stop, would have beaten Baltimore. The Colts offense had three chances to beat Tennessee. Indianapolis turned it over five times against Tampa Bay, including four in the second half, and the defense gave up 24 second-half points.

“I have to make one more great call,” Reich said. “The right call, the perfect call, in the perfect situation, to put our guys in the best scenario to make that play. From a player’s standpoint, it’s just hey, one play. Someone make that miraculous catch, that big stop on defense, a great play on special teams. … That’s what you see when you watch the teams that are doing it, that’s what they’re seeing. They’re getting that from coaches and players at the level that they need to, to win the game.”

The Colts believe they can play with anybody.

They just have to start finishing them off.

“I’m encouraged that we’re building those leads against great teams,” Reich said. “I know we have the player and coaches to get it done. We just have to prove it in a more consistent fashion.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts, Frank Reich need to finish off playoff teams like in years past