First, the Colts fired Frank Reich and replaced him with a guy who had zero coaching experience at the college and NFL level, which was insult enough.
Then the same comically inept organization did him dirty one more time: With the whole country watching (again, and again the Monday after next), they were victims of the greatest comeback in NFL history, a meltdown of biblical proportions, leading 33-0 over the Minnesota Vikings at halftime before losing 39-36 in overtime. That meltdown allowed Kirk Cousins and the Vikings to surpass Reich’s handiwork in 1993, when he led the Buffalo Bills back from a 35-3 deficit and defeated the then-Houston Oilers, 41-38, in a playoff game in Orchard Park, N.Y.
To put it in a way Jim Irsay, partial architect of this mess, might understand, this was in the upper quartile of the upper quartile of gag jobs. Fact is, it was the mother of all gag jobs, a record that may never be broken. We were witnesses to history Saturday. Yippee.
Colts-Vikings: The amazing numbers behind the biggest comeback in NFL history
Remember Irsay’s “all chips in” plane-side soliloquy after last year’s season-ending loss in Jacksonville? If this is all chips in, I’d hate to see what a tank job might look like, although I’d imagine it looks a whole lot like this catastrophe. He said he wanted Navy SEALs and astronauts on his team; turns out, he ended up with human turnstiles and Cub Scouts (with all due respect to Cub Scouts; no, really). For 40 prodigiously awful minutes, the Colts made all the wrong kinds of history, and now the race to the bottom — and a shot at a top-tier college quarterback — is on.
So there’s that.
But in the space of three weeks, the Colts have:
1. Given up the second-most fourth-quarter points (33) in NFL history in their loss to the Dallas Cowboys and;
2. Been on the wrong side of the biggest comeback in all of NFL history.
Vikings complete largest comeback in NFL history
I’m not entirely sure that’s going to look particularly good on interim head coach Jeff Saturday’s resume when he’s applying for the full-time position. (Not that it’s going to happen. I mean … right? There’s just no earthly way, unless Irsay is actively trying to enrage an already shattered fan base).
In NFL history, teams leading by 30 or more points were 1,548-1-1 in the regular season and playoffs since 1930, according to people who have lots of time on their hands. Now make that 1,548-2-1. Remarkable, in a twisted way.
More numbers? More numbers: According to NFL Research, teams that trailed by 30 or more points at the half were 0-132 in the Super Bowl era. No longer. The Colts have entered the chat.
How does this happen?
Playing not to lose had a lot to do with it, and no, this won’t look great on offensive coordinator Parks Frazier’s resume, either. The Colts managed 102 yards of offense in the second half against one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
Committing 11 penalties for 103 yards doesn’t help, including a ridiculous penalty at the end of the game when Colts defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo tried to hatch Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson after a reception, hoping to kill the clock as the Vikings rushed to the line with time winding down. The Colts were properly called for a delay of game — I mean, at least look like you’re trying to get up, Ifeadi — making Greg Joseph’s game-winning field goal try that much easier (45 yards to 40 yards).
Going 1-of-4 in the red zone isn’t a winning number, either. They had nine possessions in the second half and overtime; scored three points. When Ryan came up short on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 with 2:19 to play in regulation, the Vikings still trailed by eight, but you knew — you just KNEW — it was over after that.
FIRST PLAY. DALVIN COOK. 64 YARDS. TOUCHDOWN.
?: #INDvsMIN on @NFLNetwork
?: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/NLM9jAlP4R pic.twitter.com/zEBweG6YQm
— NFL (@NFL) December 17, 2022
Well, of course it was. One play later, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook took a screen pass 64 yards for a touchdown on a play that several defenders are going to choke on when they see their lack of effort on film Sunday – assuming they’re ever allowed back in the building. Add in the two-point conversion and it was tied at 36.
And poor Matt Ryan. If this whole year hasn’t been brutal enough — and we’re not saying he hasn’t been deeply responsible for a lot of it — but the Colts quarterback has now been the victim of the largest comeback in Super Bowl history (up 28-3 to New England in 2017) and the largest comeback in the entire history of the NFL. If he retires after this season … well, what a rough way to go out.
And now, if you’ll bear with me, a little play-by-play from my couch …
I was watching at home, half goofy on meds for my bronchitis (or whatever the heck this malady is), and late in the first half, my wife poked me in the side.
“Hey, wake up,” she said. “Don’t you have to write about this game?”
I told her I’d already pre-written most of a piece detailing which quarterback the Colts might pursue in the next NFL Draft, although with them leading 33-zip, I might hold off running that piece for a couple of days. Kind of a bad look, writing that story one day after the most impressive victory in an otherwise dreadful football season.
(Editor’s note: Keep an eye out for that story next week!)
Then she said she was going shopping.
“It’s 33-nothing,” she reminded me, like she needed an excuse to leave the house.
“They gave up 33 in the fourth quarter to Dallas two weeks ago,” I said, but I didn’t mean a word of it. This game was over. No way Minnesota was coming back. I even texted a buddy of mine, a hardcore Vikings fans, and apologized that the Colts ruining his day, which he expected was going to be a celebration of an NFC North title.
An hour or so later, she was still running errands.
“Game is tied at 36,” I texted her. “Two minutes left. Really.”
When she walked in the door, she hadn’t seen the text. When you’ve been married 32 years, texts are sometimes ignored. She was gathering the grocery bags when I told her, “Get in here. It’s going to OT.”
She gave me one of those looks wives reserve for their husbands.
“Get outta here — WHAT!!??”
Every fan base in sports can point to the absolute low point in its franchise’s existence, and the Colts have had several. There were the terrible years in the pre-Peyton years (with some exceptions), the devastating playoff losses to Pittsburgh and San Diego and, of course, New England time and again. The Super Bowl loss to New Orleans still rankles. But this one, well, this was rock bottom, the 2022-23 Colts putting a pretty blue bow on an absolutely abysmal season.
“To blow a (33-0) lead, it’s just unheard of, and it’s embarrassing,” Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell said. “It’s definitely embarrassing, but we’ve got three games left.
Oh god. He’s right. There are still three games left, aren’t there?
(Photo: Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)