Coach Frank Reich shoulders blame for Colts' shutout loss to Jaguars

Colts head coach Frank Reich gestures to an official during Sunday's 6-0 loss at Jacksonville.Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

First-year coach doesn't regret going for it on three failed fourth-and-one plays, but laments one call that was costly.

INDIANAPOLIS — A day after his Indianapolis Colts failed to convert three fourth-and-one plays in a 6-0 loss at Jacksonville, head coach Frank Reich said he didn’t regret sticking to his aggressive nature.

The first-year coach admitted he questioned himself on one of the play calls, a reverse to tight end Eric Ebron that resulted in a lost fumble at the Jaguars’ 40 in the second quarter, but Reich won’t second guess the decisions to go for it.

“In those three scenarios, no. I really don’t,” he said. “I feel very strongly those were the right decisions. You could call them aggressive or not aggressive. … Good football people disagree, can disagree and will disagree, but I don’t think those decisions were on the edge of crazy.

“I think those were decisions that all can be, you can argue one way or the other, but they are all certainly legitimate decisions. As far as I was concerned even looking back on it here a day later, I feel very strongly that I would do all three of those again over again. Those were the right decisions.”

The Colts were also stuffed for no gain at the 1-yard line in the second quarter. Not getting a field goal from at least one of those two possessions in Jaguars territory loomed larger later, when the Colts faced another fourth-and-1 play at the Jaguars’ 19 with 2:38 remaining. Instead of being able to kick a tying field goal, quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked for a 9-yard loss.

A five-game win streak ended and the Colts (6-6) saw their AFC playoff chances suffer — they’re one game behind Baltimore for the final spot.

Reich has never been shy about saying he’s inclined to go for it in key situations. And he showed that earlier in the season against Houston, when a fourth-down pass in his own end in overtime failed and the Texans capitalized with a game-winning field goal.

This time, Reich admitted he wishes he could have the Ebron play back. They had run a similar pitch play for a 2-yard Ebron touchdown in the previous win against the Jaguars.

“It was a high risk-reward,” he said. “We have had some others of those in third-and-ones and fourth-and-ones this year where we have gotten some big, chunk plays. I had envisioned that play into breaking out – not just a first down but possibly a 20 or 30-yard gain. We had a half yard to go.

“If I had those three (fourth-and-one plays) to look at over again, that would be the one that I would question myself the most on. Just run it up the middle. We had half a yard, run a quarterback sneak or just run a dive play up the middle and get the half yard. I took the risk for the big play and I was wrong.”

His confidence in the offense is usually rewarded — the Colts entered No. 4 in scoring at 29.5 points per game. During the win streak, the Colts averaged 34.6 points and 411 total yards per game.

But the Jaguars (4-8), who had lost seven straight, had the No. 5 defense. They limited the Colts to just 265 total yards, the second-lowest output of the season.

Although coaches have little time to make judgment calls during a game, Reich said most scenarios are discussed in advance with a determination of the best play for such situations. Reich also meets each Friday with two analytic experts to examine charts, including adjustments being made for both teams and possible weather conditions.

“Is this going to be a high scoring game, a low?” Reich said. “What are the expectations? What’s the over/under? All those things that go into how the chart is set. In addition to that, what we do very methodically and systematically is we go through every single scenario from the week before in the NFL and what the charts would say. Every other game, every other game – we go through every one. We play out every scenario like it was us and we talk through it. ‘Okay, what are we doing here? The chart says this. Oh, we are going for it. Why? Do we feel good about it? What makes us feel good about it?’

“So that by the time we get to Sunday, and probably I can tell you this after 11 weeks, 12 weeks of the season, one of the scenarios that we talk about the most – this comes up a lot – is what do you do on fourth down when you are in a tight red zone? It’s just a scenario that comes up a lot. We talk through every one of them. ‘How did it play out for those teams? Was it good? Was it bad? Why did it play that out?’ So, (I) factor all those things into the decisions that are made.”

Colts second-year general manager Chris Ballard was adamant in his support of Reich’s aggressive playcalling during his weekly Monday radio show.

“Look, I’m with it,” Ballard said. “We have a team of analytics (experts) here that do an excellent job, and I’m good with Frank being aggressive on fourth down. He puts a lot of trust and faith to execute. Unfortunately, this last weekend we just didn’t execute. But there’s been other times in the season where we have.”

The Colts now have the unenviable task of traveling on Sunday to Houston to face the AFC South Division leaders (9-3), who have won nine straight games beginning with the memorable overtime outcome at Indianapolis.

Before turning the page completely, Reich blamed himself for what happened at Jacksonville.

“At the end of the day, it came down to execution,” he said. “Offensively, we just didn’t execute at the level and that ultimately falls on me. It’s my job to put the players in the best position and we didn’t get that done yesterday.”

NOTES

— Defensive tackle Denico Autry, one of the team’s key offseason free-agent signings, had a career-high three sacks, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. The fifth-year pro finished with seven total tackles, including three for losses. “We did a good job of stopping them,” Autry said.

— Autry’s three-sack game was the first for a Colts defender since Robert Mathis had three in 2013.

— The Colts lost despite not allowing a touchdown for the first time since a 9-6 defeat to Buffalo on Oct. 20, 1997.

— The Jaguars managed just 211 total yards, the lowest for a Colts opponent since Houston gained 209 on Dec. 31, 2017.

— The Colts are the only team in the NFL to force a turnover in each game.

— It’s the first time in Luck’s 82-game, regular-season career that his offense has been shut out. The last time the Colts were blanked was just last season, 27-0 at home by the Jaguars, while Luck missed the year due to shoulder surgery.

— Coupled with the second half of the Colts’ 29-26 home win over the Jaguars last month, the Colts have failed to score a point against Jacksonville in six quarters.

— Several Luck streaks came to an end, including 34 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass. That ranks second in franchise history to John Unitas at 47. Luck also had an eight-game streak of at least three touchdown passes, tied with Peyton Manning for second in NFL history.

— Rookie weakside linebacker Darius Leonard’s 122 total tackles are 16 more than the league’s next player. The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate also has six sacks, 10 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

— In addition to trailing Baltimore by one game in the playoff race for a wild-card spot, the Colts don’t have much of a tiebreaker advantage when compared to three other 6-6 teams. Their 5-5 conference record ranks third among the five teams vying for that spot.

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