Colts still playing to win as Chargers chase playoff spot
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts haven’t changed the game plan.
They’re still trying to run first, still relying on a stout defense and still trying to win games despite their ever-changing circumstances.
Indy has played most of this season without three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard, will be missing 2021 NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor for the final three games because of an ankle injury and heads into Monday night’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers with its third starting quarterback, Nick Foles.
Interim coach Jeff Saturday made the move for one simple reason.
“It’s no secret, we haven’t converted in the red zone and ultimately, you’ve got to make plays in the NFL and we’re not making nearly enough explosive plays and not making plays in the red zone,” he said when announcing Matt Ryan was getting benched again. “I feel like Nick will give us a better chance to go win these last three games.”
It’s an odd move.
Indy (4-9-1) could be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention before taking the field for its third and final prime-time game of the season. Plus, Saturday went with the 33-year-old Foles over 24-year-old Sam Ehlinger, who went 0-2 as the starter earlier this year.
The Chargers (8-6), meanwhile, have climbed to sixth in the AFC standings and are closing in on their first postseason appearance since 2018 and second since 2014. By Monday night, they’ll know if they can clinch a spot with a win or if they must wait another week.
And the Chargers might be playing their best defense of the season as they prepare to face a quarterback who has not thrown a pass all season or made a start since Dec. 26, 2021. LA’s last three opponents have scored a total of 51 points and no foe has topped 24 since Week 5.
“I feel like you have to be able to match up with a lot of different styles in the league,” coach Brandon Staley said. “Miami and Tennessee could not be more different, but your defense has to be able to change and still perform at a high level. I think I’ve been able to see more of that.”
Now they’re taking on a team in flux.
Saturday hasn’t decided how he’ll split carries between Deon Jackson, Zack Moss and Jordan Wilkins or if there will be any significant changes with Foles running the show.
What he really wants is the Super Bowl 52 MVP creating a magical final run for the Colts.
“He’s come in at different times in his career and has been fantastic,” Saturday said, noting Foles’ title-winning run with Philadelphia following the 2017 season. “I think he’s very comfortable in this position.”
A WORK IN PROGRESS
The Chargers’ offense is getting closer to resembling what many expected when the season began. With the return of receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, Justin Herbert has topped the 300-yard mark in three straight games and has excelled in making plays on the run.
Still, one problem remains — second-half droughts. Los Angeles has no third-quarter touchdowns in its last nine games and has been outscored 175-109 in the second half and overtime this year.
“We have to get the explosions, stay away from negative plays and score in the red zone,” Staley said. “That is the formula. Our guys have to really attack with that mindset.”
ON THE REBOUND
Indy has lost four straight since Saturday won his coaching debut and the reason is no mystery — its inability to finish.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh rallied from fourth-quarter deficits to win, Dallas scored 33 points in the fourth quarter to turn a two-point lead into a rout, and last week, the Colts blew a 33-0 halftime lead as Minnesota won 39-36 in overtime — the largest comeback in NFL history.
The key to rebounding this week just might be finding Taylor’s replacement.
“We did some good things (at Minnesota),” Moss said. “There’s obviously some things we could have cleaned up but you know, I think it was a good step for us as a team on the offensive side.”
Taylor and Chargers running back Austin Ekeler shared the league lead for total TDs (20) in 2021, and Ekeler is back on top of the AFC this season with 14. Ekeler also is closing in on a historical milestone. He needs five receptions to record the sixth 100-catch season by a running back in league history.
The Colts know all about Ekeler. When these teams last met in the 2019 season opener, he had 154 scrimmage yards as the Chargers won 30-24 in overtime.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.