clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

4th-and-drop: Colts fall to Texans in heart-breaking fashion late, ending 2023 season

The Colts battled to the bitter end with a spirited second half comeback, but fell short in the game’s closing minutes— after a surprising offensive play-call and substitution resulted in a turnover on downs.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts (9-8) fell just short of a spirited comeback against the Houston Texans, ultimately falling 23-19 in heart-breaking fashion in the game’s final minutes.

Down 23-17 on 4th and 1 with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter at the Houston 15-yard line, Colts starting quarterback Gardner Minshew threw slightly behind backup running back Tyler Goodson, who was unable to hang on beyond the sticks, and effectively ended the Colts’ chances of winning the ‘do-or-die’ regular season finale.

It was a surprising playcall (and substitution) to say the least—although football minds may disagree. Colts head coach Shane Steichen schemed Goodson open, and to be fair, a crisper throw by Minshew easily completes the pass—and it also did hit Goodson’s hands, who probably still should’ve made the spinning catch, all things considered.

That being said, the Colts had ridden star running back Jonathan Taylor all game.

The Colts’ workhorse simply had a monstrous outing for Indianapolis, rushing for 188 total rushing yards on 30 carries (6.3 ypc. avg.) and a rushing touchdown. If the Colts had pulled off the victory late, we may have even referred to this as the ‘Jonathan Taylor Game,’ as #28, who at one point was downgraded to doubtful/out with foot/heel injuries, shockingly returned to this one—and was clearly gutting it out with his team’s season on the line.

It’s not that Taylor necessarily had to have the carry on the 4th-and-1 play, as the Texans were likely expecting an inside run—if he were actually in, before being subbed out for Goodson. However, the Colts putting in a third-string running back (who had been signed off the practice squad only a few weeks ago) completely cold off the bench to make the winning play in the season’s biggest moment is highly surprising (and even suspect) to me.

It would be like a basketball team calling its 10th man off the bench cold to take the team’s winning shot in the closing minutes, when their leading scorer had already dropped 30 points and they had an established 7-man rotation. Why not trust players who are actually warm and in the flow of the game during your season’s most critical moment to make the winning plays?

Colts head coach Shane Steichen can run circles around me in offensive play-calling (no argument there!), but to me, it’s almost like they overthought it and got ‘kind of cute,’ when they easily could’ve just faked an inside run to Taylor and thrown a quick pass? Or even just run the ball with Taylor behind say their Pro Bowl caliber tandem of left guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly inside? If it doesn’t work out, fine, but at least you can hang your hat knowing that you rode the horses that got you there in the first place (Pittman? Downs?) or put the football in your offense’s best player’s hands (Taylor) when it mattered most.

I’ll say this though, despite falling down 14-3 at one point in the first half, the Colts were a completely different team after halftime—and looked closer to the Indianapolis team we’ve seen for the majority of this year’s regular season.

Even though they didn’t trust Minshew enough to consistently make more challenging throws, lost their starting right tackle (Braden Smith) and cornerback (JuJu Brents) in-game, the Colts battled to the bitter end and had an opportunity to win this one in the game’s final minutes—and extend their 2023 season with a playoff berth.

Unfortunately, they came up just short, and while this easily could’ve been remembered in Colts folklore forever as ‘The Jonathan Taylor Game,’ we may remember it more for a late surprising playcall/substitution and a key drop, with their season unfortunately now over.