INDIANAPOLIS – So there was a change at quarterback? How can you tell?
Seriously, how can you tell the Indianapolis Colts made a change at the most significant position after that?
It’s clear we’ve officially reached the point where it doesn’t really matter who’s under center. Not during this lost season. Matt Ryan? Sam Ehlinger? Matt Ryan again? Nick Foles?
Interim coach Jeff Saturday determined Foles was his best option heading into Monday night’s meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium, which tells us all we need to know about Options 1 and 2.
Ryan, the 37-year old former MVP, was benched twice and was the inactive No. 3 following his ineffective performance in the Colts’ historic collapse against the Minnesota Vikings. In 12 games, he suffered 13 interceptions – tied for second-most in the league – with a league-high 18 turnovers. Oh, and he was sacked 38 times.
Ehlinger, the 2021 sixth-round draft pick, nearly directed the Colts to a win in his first career start – a 17-16 loss to the Washington Commanders – but was no match for Bill Belichick in his encore. In a 26-3 loss at New England that got Frank Reich fired, he was sacked nine times, suffered a pick-6 and passed for 103 yards with a 45.6 rating.
Saturday reinstated Ryan after he replaced Reich, but that lasted four games – and four losses – before he determined Foles gave the Colts the best chance to upset the Chargers.
Different quarterback, same results.
Chargers 20, Colts 3.
Indy has lost five straight and eight of its last nine. It sits 4-10-1, and has lost at least 10 games for just the second time since 2012.
The latest loss followed a script that’s doomed this season.
“Pretty simple,’’ Saturday said. “Can’t turn the ball over, gotta convert third downs offensively, get them off the field.’’
Foles started his first game in exactly one year because Saturday realized Ryan either couldn’t or wouldn’t push the football down the field.
But Foles, like Ryan and Ehlinger before him, wasn’t the answer. Not even close.
The Chargers sacked him a career-high seven times and got to him for three interceptions, and two came within the span of six plays in the first quarter. The third came on the Colts’ third snap on the third, and after the defense opened the second half by forcing a Chargers’ punt.
“At the end of the day, those are on me,’’ Foles said. “I have to know that and make better decisions.’’
It was a 10-3 game before Foles’ third interception, and 13-3 after Cameron Dicker’s 21-yard field goal.
The 10-point deficit seemed like 100.
That’s a direct result of the offense, again, being unable to muster much of anything.
Consider this: the Colts now have posted two of the six lowest offensive outputs in the league this season. Their 121 yards at New England ranks No. 2. The 173 yards against the Chargers checks in at No. 6.
And then there’s this: the Colts were unable to find any rhythm on offense because they were inept when it mattered. For just the third time in franchise history, they failed to convert a single time on third down. They were 0 for 10. In the week 9 loss to the Patriots, the Ehlinger-led offense set the franchise record by going 0 for 14. That tied the second-worst mark in NFL history.
“We had a really good week of practice,’’ Foles said. “Obviously the execution wasn’t at the level that we needed to win this game and that’s unfortunate.
“We could just never get anything going. We never got into a rhythm as an offense and I think the points show. I mean, three points. That’s never going to be good enough.’’
The offense has scored one touchdown or fewer four times in a season for the first time since 2017, and Foles, Ryan and Ehlinger each has had a hand in the impotency.
Any chance of the Colts remaining competitive against the Chargers evaporated on the first play of the fourth quarter. They trailed 13-3, but were given hope when DeForest Buckner and Dayo Odeyingbo collaborated on a sack/forced fumble of Justin Herbert. Four plays later, the Colts and faced a fourth-and-1 at the L.A. 12.
Foles was stuffed for no gain . . . just as Ryan was on fourth-and-inches in the fourth quarter against the Vikings.
“I felt like, you know, that was going to give us the best opportunity to get it,’’ Saturday said of the Foles’ sneak. “We don’t get it.’’
One of the reasons Foles was elevated over Ryan was to inject some explosive plays in the passing game. Not only didn’t that happen, but the Colts failed to generate at least one 20-yard completion for the first time since week 11 of 2019. That’s a span of 52 games.
Foles was 17-of-29 for 143 yards with the three interceptions and a 31.9 rating. The three interceptions pushed the Colts’ season total to a league-high 30 turnovers. The seven sacks boosted the total to 56, six shy of matching the franchise record. Several of the sacks were a result of Foles holding onto the football too long as the Chargers mixed up their coverages.
Saturday never considered turning to Ehlinger.
“Going to somebody else wasn’t the answer right there,’’ he said.
He also seemed to indicate Foles will finish the season as the Colts’ starter.
“I don’t think making another change at this moment’s going to do much to spark it,’’ Saturday said.
That doesn’t bode well for Ehlinger.
“Well, I mean, Sam has had his shot as well,’’ Saturday said. “I wasn’t here when that happened. But you know, as we look through there, we’re trying to find the spark. As Nick was practicing, we felt like he gave us the best opportunity.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t his night tonight.’’
And it wasn’t the Colts’ night. Again.
While the Chargers were clinching their first playoff berth since 2018, the Colts still were searching for answers.
They’ve got two weeks to find them, but have run out of quarterbacks.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.