The Colts have lost it. And time is running out on finding it, if that’s possible.
Where did it go? And is there any chance of rediscovery?
Probably not. Because when analyzing how the Colts have struggled down the stretch, certain realities are clear. And they’re not going to change. Never say never … I did say “probably” before the “not” because sometimes the unexpected occurs.
But let’s be honest, the Colts lost their mojo because the offense has struggled. And there are three key reasons why this happened.
The first reason the Colts have been unable to find that mojo is running back Ahmad Bradshaw. He’s not coming back to inject his enthusiasm on the field. Nobody played the game with more desire. And when he was lost to a season-ending fractured fibula in the New England game on Nov. 16, everything changed.
The Colts have gained more than 400 total yards only once in five games since Bradshaw said farewell. Six, if you want to count that ugly Patriots loss.
Just like that, subtract a running back who was not only the team’s leading rusher but a capable pass catcher with six touchdown receptions. That was a killer. The Colts have been scrambling ever since.
Yeah, there are other weapons. Bradshaw is only one man. But that’s the biggest difference.
Then let’s look at the other weapons. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, as we later found out, tore his left triceps when he got hurt against Cincinnati on Oct. 19. That explains why the fan favorite has struggled ever since. And he was a key cog, too.
If quarterback Andrew Luck has habitually leaned on anyone in his three NFL seasons, it’s Wayne. And that made sense. Wayne has learned a lot in 14 years. Wide receivers don’t typically last until their 36th birthday. The guy got open various ways because he was as crafty as he was talented.
Then he got hurt. And he hasn’t been the same. Wayne has caught 24 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown in the past seven games. Remember, this is the same guy in 2012 who practically took down the Green Bay Packers all by himself with 13 catches for a career-high 212 yards and the game-winning touchdown in one of the most inspiring efforts we’ve ever seen. That was the first game the Colts played after Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia.
It’s not a knock on Reg that he got hurt. Just the truth. Nobody has appreciated that guy more. I admire him trying to fight to the end and do what he can. But he’s not the same pass catcher as before, there’s been an extended period of adjustment, and the big plays have been few and far between. Luck still looks for him, but the numbers haven’t been there.
Lastly, and this topic got old a long time ago, but the Colts have insisted on getting what they can out of running back Trent Richardson. Fair to say, with almost another season as a sample size, mojo and Trent Richardson don’t belong in the same sentence.
He can’t create for himself, so unless the holes are gaping, Richardson isn’t gaining a lot. He doesn’t hit the line as fast as Bradshaw, nor Dan Herron, for that matter. It spoke volumes that “Boom” came in for Bradshaw and this second-year pro relegated mostly to special teams has outperformed Richardson.
It just hasn’t worked out for T-Rich. That couldn’t be more obvious. Yet he still gets some carries and goes nowhere. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Don’t waste your time blaming the offensive line. Behind that same O-line, Bradshaw averaged 4.7 yards per carry and Herron averages 4.6 yards per carry.
Not that the O-line gets a pass. The constant shuffling of nine different starting combinations has prevented continuity. But it's beyond mind-boggling that the No. 1 priority of protecting Luck is still an issue. He gets hit too much. And we all wonder, in a career year, what could be possible behind a stronger front.
The time for saving face is long past. Next week, it will be about playoff survival or the Colts can call it a season. Start the guys who should be playing. Herron should get most of the backfield work to give this team the best chance to generate something on the ground, if that’s possible against a playoff-caliber team. And stick A.Q. Shipley back at center. Regardless of what somebody doesn't like about him, he's the most experienced guy for the job.
Wayne mentioned the team had a players-only meeting earlier in the week. He probably called it. And that says a lot about him being a leader and trying to do whatever possible to get this team straightened out. It’s beneficial for players to get gripes off their chests, if in fact anyone did. It’s helpful to have the players get together and make sure they are clear about what’s going on and why.
But the need for such a meeting also says a lot about where things are at.
Wayne and outside linebacker Robert Mathis have gone about their business for much of their NFL careers with the approach that talk is cheap. You set an example for others by how you play. That’s what matters.
Meetings can’t fix injured players or an underachieving one. When everything isn’t firing on all cylinders and a team enters the playoffs not playing its best, it’s merely a matter of time before an inevitable exit.
The Colts could get their mojo back. But that probably won’t be until next season.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.