MINNEAPOLIS — Parris Campbell let out a deep sigh as he sank deeper in his chair.
Grover Stewart stared at the floor, statuesque and silent.
E.J. Speed sat frozen at his locker with his head buried in his hands.
“We’re a part of history,” Speed said. “For all the wrong reasons.”
The Colts blew the largest lead in NFL history Saturday in Minnesota, losing 39-36 in overtime after being up 33-0 at halftime. Before the game, teams that held a lead of 30-plus points were 1,548-1-1, including the regular season and playoffs, since 1930. In other words, Indianapolis had a 99.9 percent chance of winning and somehow, some way lost.
As each player came to grips with an unprecedented outcome, Deon Jackson appeared to take it the hardest. The second-year running back was all smiles after scoring on a 1-yard catch late in the first quarter that gave the Colts a 17-0 lead, but after the game, his watery eyes displayed his disappointment in ways his words couldn’t.
It was Jackson’s fourth-quarter fumble — as Indianapolis clung to a 36-28 lead — that proved to be another costly error in Minnesota’s miraculous comeback.
“Going into traffic, I knew I should’ve put two hands on the ball,” Jackson said, his voice barely audible. “I didn’t, and the ball came out. I gotta be better, point-blank, period.”
Jackson, filling in after Jonathan Taylor sustained a right ankle injury in the first quarter, coughed it up with 3:28 remaining in regulation. Minnesota’s Chandon Sullivan scooped up the fumble and returned it for what would’ve been a 39-yard touchdown, but the refs blew the play dead immediately after the ball came free and negated the return.
After a review, the call that ruled Jackson down by contact was overturned and the Vikings were awarded possession, but they were unable to reach the end zone. The Colts took over following a turnover on downs, only to give the ball right back after a failed QB sneak by Matt Ryan on fourth-and-1 from Minnesota’s 36-yard line.
Kirk Cousins threw a screen pass one play later to Dalvin Cook, who juked past Rodney Thomas II in the open field and raced in for a 64-yard score. Cousins connected with T.J. Hockenson on the ensuing two-point conversion to knot the game at 36.
A new rock bottom: Colts add historic 33-point collapse to season’s list of failures
As for the rest? That was literally history, as Greg Joseph drilled a 40-yard field goal in the final seconds of overtime to hand the now 4-9-1 Colts their fourth straight loss.
“Honestly, I’m at a loss for words right now,” Jackson said. “We shot ourselves in the foot.”
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Saturday’s loss at U.S. Bank Stadium wasn’t all on Jackson, but it was on the offense, which has been the Colts’ biggest problem all season, whether coach Jeff Saturday acknowledges it or not.
“Nah, man, it’s on the football team,” Saturday said. “Listen, everybody in that room knows it’s on everybody. We don’t point fingers. We don’t place blame. Again, you’re up big in the first half, you have opportunities throughout the game to close the game on both sides of the ball. We didn’t make plays. There’s no one way to look at this. Everybody in that room played a part, so that’s the most disappointing part, and everybody in there knows.”
The defense deserves part of the blame, as it surrendered three fourth-quarter TDs and 518 yards of total offense. However, Indianapolis had already been gifted several breaks, starting with Ifeadi Odenigbo’s blocked punt that fell into the hands of JoJo Domann, who returned it for a 24-yard score in the first quarter.
“I’m not even on special teams like that,” Odenigbo said. “It was literally just that one time. They were like, ‘Hey, Ifeadi, we just need you to be a decoy and go out there.’ So I went out there, and I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I’m really close to the ball.’ And then JoJo caught that, and I’m like, ‘That’s my guy!’ That kind of helped the momentum.”
Domann’s return gave the Colts a 10-0 lead, and in the second quarter, Julian Blackmon’s 17-yard pick-six gave them a 30-0 lead. Indianapolis hadn’t scored on special teams or defense all season, pulling off both in the same game. Chase McLaughlin tacked on a 27-yard field goal to increase the lead to 33 at the break.
All Indianapolis needed was one second-half touchdown drive to shut the door on the Vikings. Instead, its 10 possessions in the second half and overtime resulted in the following: punt, 52-yard field goal, punt, punt, punt, fumble, turnover on downs, punt, taking a knee to go to OT and another punt in the extra period. Indianapolis didn’t move more than 31 yards on any of those drives.
“I mean, we were up 33-0,” left guard Quenton Nelson said. “We just need to score in the second half as an offense.”
Said Ryan: “We didn’t make enough plays at the right time. When you have chances to put people away, we’ve got to do a better job than we’ve done up until this point.”
But this is who the Colts have been, particularly on offense. Too prone to turnovers, too reliant on McLaughlin (who went 5-for-5 on field goals) and too allergic to touchdowns. All of it came to a head Saturday when the offense couldn’t even outscore Domann, an undrafted rookie who plays only on special teams.
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Two weeks ago, tight end Kylen Granson was asked whether the Colts had hit rock bottom after losing 54-19 at Dallas and being outscored 33-0 in the fourth quarter.
“Rock bottom would be 0-16, so no,” he responded.
That’s fair, but perhaps a better word is quicksand, which linebacker Zaire Franklin alluded to after a loss he and his counterparts will never forget.
“You’re trying to get it to stop as best as you can,” Franklin said of the game slipping away. “But it felt like quicksand. The more you fought, the deeper you sink.”
(Top photo: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)