Oct. 16—INDIANAPOLIS — All losses count the same, but not all are created equal.
There was an inevitable hangover this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center in the aftermath of Monday night's crushing 31-25 overtime loss against the Baltimore Ravens. The key is not allowing it to bleed over into another game.
"It was definitely a little harder to let that one go 'cause we had the game in our hands and got a national stage, guys keeping on fire for the majority of the game, as a team played well and then just let it slip between our fingers," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "So it was definitely a hard one to get over, but we've got a big division game coming up this week, and that's what the guys are really focused on right now."
If the Indianapolis Colts (1-4) are to turn this disappointing start around, it must begin Sunday against the equally struggling Houston Texans (1-4). The contest opens a forgiving stretch of the schedule with just one opponent sporting a winning record over the next five weeks.
And, like Indianapolis, the Texans are hurting.
Rookie Davis Mills will make his fourth consecutive start in place of injured Tyrod Taylor and is coming off his best performance as a pro. In a tighter than expected 25-22 loss against the New England Patriots last week, the former Stanford star was 21-of-29 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
But Mills has shown the inconsistency expected of a third-round draft pick. He has completed 61.5% of his passes for 669 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions, and he's already been sacked 11 times. The protection up front could be a significant concern Sunday after left tackle Laremy Tunsil underwent thumb surgery.
Houston ranks 29th in both scoring offense (17.8 points per game) and total yards (282.6 per game) and has lost by an average of 17 points during its four-game losing streak.
The Colts' focus, however, is likely to be internal.
The loss to Baltimore underscored a season-long failure to finish. The offense has struggled to complete drives, ranking last in the league with just 36.8% of its red-zone trips (7-of-19) resulting in a touchdown. The defense has been unable to slow down opponents in two-minute situations, surrendering six touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime in just the past two weeks alone.
It all adds up to the worst start since the 2018 team was 1-5. That season ended with a 9-1 stretch run as Indianapolis made the playoffs and beat the Texans in the wild-card round.
There are parallels with these first five weeks.
"There are similarities, for sure — just the gut wrenching, the disappointment, the head scratching," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "Probably the expectations are a little bit higher. I just felt like they are higher expectations. The first year, you don't know exactly what's going to happen. You certainly always have high expectations. Then I think we have a more mature team. I think our roster is stronger. So I really believe that we just have to pull together week-by-week.
"We can learn. We've done this before. We can certainly draw from that. We know what that 1-0 mentality is. Listen, everybody always talks about 1-0, but when you're 1-4 it means a little something more. So we have to draw on that."
Indianapolis also must draw on its leaders.
Buckner led a players-only meeting two weeks ago focused on accountability, and quarterback Carson Wentz also is emerging as a powerful voice. That has more to do with his play on the field than any locker-room activity.
Despite having surgery to remove a bone fragment in his foot in August and playing for a time on a pair of sprained ankles, Wentz has completed 65.3% of his passes for 1,322 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He set career highs against the Ravens with 402 yards, 11.5 yards per completion and a 128.5 quarterback rating.
The offensive line — still missing two starters — had its best performance in front of him, and young stars Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor have emerged as forces at the skill positions. That's a big reason for the confidence the offense could lead a season turnaround.
"Coming out of college, we didn't lose many games, so I had to learn in a hurry how to respond after a loss — slow starts whether that's in a game or slow starts in a season, losing records and those types of things," said Wentz, who was a part of five FCS national championships at North Dakota State. "It's really just about staying the course. You cannot get overly concerned about a record. Whether you're 4-1, 1-4, it's always just about the next week.
"In the NFL, anybody can beat anybody at any point in time, and you see that every single Sunday. For us, it's keep that same mindset. Let's just go practice. Let's just go get better. I know it sounds cliché and like the boring answer, but at the same time, we have to always keep that perspective of just get better. Let's go work every single day and show up on Sunday and hopefully get this thing turned around."