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Jonathan Taylor (28) of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the third quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)
Jonathan Taylor (28) of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the third quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)

Stroud tears apart secondary as Colts miss playoffs again with 23-19 home loss to Texans

Despite falling short of the postseason, Shane Steichen proved himself as head coach this season

All season the cards had been stacked against rookie head coach Shane Steichen. 

His first-round pick quarterback was sidelined for the season just five games in due to a shoulder injury, he lost a starting cornerback for the year due to gambling and a star defensive tackle for six games due to PED’s, and was forced into the negotiation ringer with his all-pro running back that he had available for only 10 games.

Somehow, throughout all the adversity that the team faced, he was still able to set them up for an opportunity at the playoffs. With 1:06 left on the Lucas Oil Stadium clock, Gardner Minshew stared down a five-man Houston Texans blitz and had to get the ball out quickly. In doing so he threw the ball slightly behind running back Tyler Goodson who was unable to make the catch. 

The turnover on downs eventually ended the Colts’ chances and saw the team drop its eighth game of the season 23-19. The loss in the “Win and in” game will provide the team with its third straight season that will end without a playoff contest. 

“Just disappointed in the way it ended, but extremely proud of the way our guys fought all year.”  Steichen said about his team postgame.

The game started well in the Colts' favor with Matt Gay converting from 38 yards out to set the pace at 3-0. Jonathan Taylor made it clear he would be a force all night with six rushes for 26 yards on the opening possession.

All C.J. Stroud needed was one play to show what the Colts' secondary would have to endure if it wanted a chance to win, finding Nico Collins for a 75-yard touchdown. Stroud gave all the credit to his teammates for the victory while talking to ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt saying, “You can’t just say it was me and him (Collins), the o-line did a great job today, the running backs did a great job, the tight ends blocked, and our other receivers did great as well.”

Seven straight punts occurred before the next score where Stroud found tight end Andrew Beck — Colts’ backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s roommate at the University of Texas — in the back of the end zone with no Colts’ defender relatively close to extend the lead to 14-3.

The Colts quickly fired off a six-play, 41-yard drive to give Gay another field goal attempt, this time from 52 yards away, which he converted — his eighth made kick of 50 yards or longer this season.

The first possession for the Colts in the second half saw Taylor bust off rushes of 11 and four yards before Minshew found tight end Kylen Granson for a 23-yard gain. Taylor finished it off with a 49-yard score aided by Alec Pierce’s downfield blocking. Taylor dealt with an ankle/foot injury for most of the night but that didn’t stop him from having his best game of the season compiling 188 yards on 30 carries and the score.

“Playoff football is the teams who make the most plays,” an emotional Taylor said in the locker room postgame. “We didn't make enough.”

Taylor was not on the field on the final offensive play for the Colts, but according to Steichen, it was by design and Goodson had been the player practicing the play all week. In a season where Steichen had looked wise beyond his years on so many plays, the decision to not have Taylor in the game on the final play will be in question for days and weeks to follow.

Minshew, whose future with the team will be up in the air as the offseason begins, struggled when the lights were the brightest, throwing for only 141 yards on 24 passes. He only completed passes to five different players and was unable to take the top of the Texans’ secondary all night.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for the year,” Minshew said in what could be his last postgame interview as a Colt. “It doesn’t feel right that it ends this way.”

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew II (10) throws against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Oct. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)

Zaire Franklin and EJ Speed continued their dominant one-two punch from their linebacker positions, combining for 22 tackles and two tackles for loss. The defense controlled the trenches all night only allowing 83 yards on the ground, but was constantly picked apart by the rookie Stroud and proved what the offseason will have to revolve around improving: secondary.

Collins caught all nine of his targets for 195 yards and the score — his receptions and yards were both single-game career highs.

The Colts now enter the offseason in a promising form with the fourth-most cap space in the league with over $72 million. The team will have to prioritize re-signing Grover Stewart, Kenny Moore II and Michael Pittman Jr. Stewart, who is only 30 years old, will be a massive player to bring back and continue his dominance alongside DeForest Buckner. Moore II is a veteran leader in the locker room and secondary who will continue to be a key piece for the team. The most important piece to bring back will be Pittman Jr., who has shown his ability to be a true No. 1 receiver.

Returning from injury is starting quarterback Anthony Richardson, who now has a whole year of learning and observing and will be able to now translate that to his game.

Steichen proved he is the man to steer the ship in Indianapolis and will have the offseason to continue to develop his craft as a play-caller and leader. The sting of the loss Saturday night will be the fuel for the coming months.

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