Colts and Raiders face a familiar scenario with 2 games remaining
He played well in that Week 17 contest, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown, but the Colts failed to clinch a playoff spot on their home field and a week later they were homeward bound for the offseason. The Raiders used that surprise last-second victory to steal a playoff spot.
So this week, facing an eerily similar situation, the 2021 NFL rushing champion finds himself giving teammates a short, simple reminder: Take care of business Sunday.
“It does (help) because you failed in a sense, so you had the opportunity to learn and especially, with the younger guys, you’re able to teach them or give them a little bit of knowledge that you have from your experience,” Taylor said. “Hopefully, they can take that into consideration, thought, and really put forth the effort, knowing we need to be all gas on the pedal this week.”
Indy (8-7) again enters the game against the Raiders largely in control of its destiny.
Win these last two home games, the Colts will likely clinch their first playoff berth since 2020 and, with a little more help, could leapfrog defending AFC South champ Jacksonville to capture their first division crown since 2014.
While another late-season loss on their home turf may not eliminate Indy, it would throw a major wrench into the Colts’ postseason hopes. But the bigger concern is rebounding from a second underwhelming performance in three weeks.
“When you go through adversity, when you kind of hit a wall, you feel like you’re a little stuck — that’s the time to get back to the basics, get back to what you believe in, get back to what makes you, you,” Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin said.
The Raiders (7-8) sit one game behind the AFC’s five-team pack bunched at 8-7 and must win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They’ll arrive with an interim coach in Antonio Pierce, a rookie quarterback in Aidan O’Connell and a two-game winning streak.
Yes, the critics wrote off Las Vegas following the midseason coaching change and again after a 3-0 loss to Minnesota just three weeks ago.
But, like that 2021 Raiders squad, this team has been resilient, giving them hope they’ll pull off another surprise.
“Nope, Colts,” Pierce said when asked if he’s using the playoffs to motivate his team. “That’s how we’ve been focusing, what’s in front of us. I can’t control 2024, and that’s in 2024. I’m in 2023 right now.”
Even if this weekend’s matchup rekindles some nightmarish moments for the Colts and their fans.
“Thankfully, we earned the right to be in the position to earn a place in the postseason,” Taylor said. “But we’ve got to make the most of that opportunity. We’ve got to take care of business this Sunday.”
STATING HIS CASE
Pierce won his first two games as coach, his last two and still has two more to show owner Mark Davis he should keep the job next season.
“My resume is on the grass,” Pierce said.
Pierce replaced Josh McDaniels on Halloween when Las Vegas was 3-5. This marks the second straight year this series has featured an interim coach. Jeff Saturday won his only game with Indy last season in Las Vegas, and Pierce hopes to return the favor.
“Hopefully, Mark Davis sees improvement and growth within our team,” Pierce said. “He sees the style and play that he wants from the Raiders. He sees a fan base that’s behind us. He sees a building that loves coming to work and loves being here. At the end of the day, we’ve got to win.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Indy has won its last two home games, improving to 3-4 at Lucas Oil Stadium this season. Closing with two more wins wouldn’t just extend their streak to four in a row, it would give Indy a winning record on its home turf.
That would be impressive after the Colts went nearly a full year between home wins — a streak that began after a victory on Oct. 16, 2022, over Jacksonville and ended with a win over Tennessee on Oct. 8.
But this series, between franchises now relocated from their original hometowns, has not followed the traditional NFL script. The road team has won five straight since the Raiders won in Oakland in 2016.
SOMETHING TO PROVE
Last week, the Raiders won 20-14 in Kansas City while becoming the first team since 2000 to win without a completion after the first quarter. O’Connell finished 9 of 21 with 62 yards.
“Obviously, I didn’t have my best game,” O’Connell said. “We didn’t do much offensively in the pass game, and like I said after the game, I missed some opportunities that were there.”
O’Connell’s last start at Lucas Oil Stadium didn’t go well, either. Michigan beat O’Connell’s Purdue Boilermakers in the 2022 Big Ten championship game.
Pierce said O’Connell doesn’t get easily rattled by negative performances.
AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Henderson, Nevada, also contributed to this report.