BY JEFF FALK
SOME PHOTOS COURTESY OF INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
PHILADELPHIA – It was a good return. It was a positive return. But it wasn’t a triumphant return.
There are no moral victories in the NFL, only victories. It’s a bottom line business that demands- requires – desirable results.
It’s a philosophy that flies against the grain of what Frank Reich stands for, what he believes in. For Reich is always searching for a silver lining, constantly seeing the positives in every situation.
In that vein, it seems that the Indianapolis Colts are taking on the character of their coach. And if that’s the case, then Indy is well on its way.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, Reich’s Colts gave a very good account of themselves and pushed the reigning Super Bowl champions to the absolute limit, before falling 20-16 late in the fourth quarter. When push came to shove, veteran and seasoned Philadelphia got the job done, and Indianapolis, which in a way is still finding its way, didn’t.
Philadelphia notched the decisive touchdown with 3:02 remaining, on a short Wendell Smallwood run that capped a long, time-consuming drive. On its ensuing possession, Indianapolis drove to the Eagles’ four-yard line before stalling out.
Reich is the Colts’ first-year head coach and is in his third game of being Lebanon County’s first NFL coach. The former Cedar Crest star and NFL quarterback was making his first appearance in Philadelphia since helping the Eagles win Super Bowl LII as their offensive coordinator.
“It’s just a tough loss,” said Reich. “The guys played hard. A lot of good things to accentuate. The positives – coming on the road in a hostile environment against the defending Super Bowl champions – and taking them down to the wire. We have to learn from this and learn from our mistakes. Obviously we did not take advantage of some opportunities. The biggest one of that is the offense in the red zone.”
“I’ve got to go back and look,” continued Reich. “We just missed a couple of things. We’ve got to finish those drives.”
“It was a lot of fun,” said Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson, of the gamesmanship with his former assistant. “We got a chance to visit with him before the game. We were aware of a couple things that he might pick up on, whether it be formation or personnel, and kind of vice versa with us, with their offense. Quite honestly, when you’re in the heat of battle, into the game, you’re just focused on calling the next play, and I know Frank was doing the same thing.
“He’s got a good football team,” Pederson added. “He’s got a great quarterback, obviously. They’re going to win a ton of games. It was fun to play against him.”
The Colts’ improved defense competed admirably. But they couldn’t get off the field during Philadelphia’s monstrous 17-play, 75-yard winning possession that consumed 11:18 of the fourth quarter.
The drive was aided by four penalties called on Indianapolis’ usually disciplined defense.
“It was a long drive,” said Reich. “It got extended a couple of times. I thought we had them stopped, but we’ve got to finish it.
“The defense did a good job of minimizing big plays, of just being patient,” Reich continued. “I think defensively we did a lot of good things and minimized the big plays, kept the scoring down and gave our offense opportunities.”
“It was just the resiliency of our offense,” said Pederson. “Our offensive line began to dominate at that point. We were fortunate a couple of penalties went our way. It was just a team effort at that particular time.”
Behind the quarterbacking of Andrew Luck, the Colts nearly rallied in the final three minutes. Luck drove Indianapolis inside the Philly five-yard line, before being sacked on fourth down.
Indianapolis scored one touchdown in five trips inside the red zone.
“We really pride ourselves on practicing to be one of the better red-zone teams in the NFL,” said Reich. “That’s our goal, so one-for-five is unacceptable. We just have to learn from it and get better.”
“I think it’s just understanding the sense of urgency down there,” said Pederson of his defense. “They understand that things can happen faster, the ball’s out faster. The space is obviously limited down there, so it’s an advantage to the defense. It’s one of the positives of our defense.”
After the Eagles scored on their opening possession, the Colts led twice – 13-10 in the middle of the third quarter and 16-13 early in the final period – both on short Adam Vinatieri field goals. But for the game, Philadelphia doubled Indianapolis’ total yardage and time of possession.
“I think that’s over-rated,” said Reich to the notion that his familiarity with the Eagles’ players and staff was some sort of advantage. “There were a couple of times I knew that (Eagles’ QB Carson Wentz) was checking things and I knew what he was checking into. But the thing is, if you say something, he’s going to check out of that. You don’t get into playing that game. You just play football. So at the end of the day, that kind of played out like I thought it would. It had a little bit of an impact in the game-planning and how we saw things and game-planned things, but not as much as everyone would think.”
“We found a way to make it work, and we won,” said Pederson. “That’s something to be proud of. For the team, it’s a matter of we’ve just got to learn from our mistakes. I really feel like good football teams find ways to win, and we’ve been able to do that. In tight, close ball games, we’ve been able to figure it out and win, and that’s a tribute to the guys in the locker room.”
Indianapolis was coming off Reich’s first career win, a 21-6 triumph at Washington last week. Going forward, there’s a lot to build upon, and plenty of things to clean up.
“It’s a great group of guys,” said Luck. “It’s a great group of coaches and support staff. I love this team. I think we play really hard. I think we will continue to improve. For us, winning and losing matters, and improving matters. That’s what we have to do. Whether we win by 40 or lose by 40, the game is over and what happened, happened. We have to be able to go back and get better, and I think we have each week. I’ll challenge myself and the rest of the group to continue to do that.”
But the Colts must finish.
|Frank Reich’s Career History|