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Carson Wentz heads into long offseason of reflection

Former Bison QB's errors in inexplicable loss to NFL's worst team helped cost Indianapolis a spot in the playoffs.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) is sacked by Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen (41) during the second quarter of a Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports

Carson Wentz still seemed a little shell-shocked while addressing the media Sunday in Jacksonville.

The Indianapolis Colts' stunning 26-11 loss against the host Jaguars was still fresh, and the quarterback still was processing his emotions.

In many ways, it was a bounce-back season for Wentz, who threw for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions — matching his totals from the 2019 season with the Philadelphia Eagles before his nuclear meltdown in 2020.

But he, like his team, couldn't deliver in the final two weeks of the season with the playoffs on the line. And that will provide plenty of food for thought during what's certain to be a long offseason.

"That's a good question," Wentz said of the source of his struggles in the last two weeks. "And it's one I'm going to look long and hard at personally. Where could I have been better? What could I have done?"

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He said he'll start with the two third-quarter turnovers Sunday that doomed the Colts' comeback chances.

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Indy's GM Chris Ballard said Thursday, "I thought Carson did some good things, and there's a lot of things he needs to do better. Our passing game has to be better."

With a chance to provide a spark and perhaps turn the tide of the game early in the second half, Wentz instead handed it away.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, he was sacked on first down from his own 38-yard line and lost a fumble. Replays showed Wentz was perhaps attempting to throw a shovel pass of some sort as Jacksonville linebacker Damien Wilson provided pressure. But the ball was easily knocked out of his outstretched hands and recovered by the Jaguars at Indianapolis' 23-yard line.

That led to a field goal and increased Jacksonville's lead to 16-3. After the teams exchanged punts, Wentz made another costly mistake.

He stared down tight end Mo Alie-Cox on first down from his own 29-yard line, and Wilson made an easy interception at the 45. Six plays later, Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw a 3-yard touchdown pass that essentially sealed his team's upset victory.

"Those opening drives (of the second half) were crucial," Wentz said. "I gave it away, put our defense in a bad position, and that's all I can really think about right now."

It seems unlikely the Colts will have a fifth different starting quarterback in as many years to open the 2022 season. But there will be plenty of time to examine what went wrong with Wentz down the stretch.

He threw for more than 200 yards just once in the final four games, and he was unable to consistently provide the dynamic plays Indianapolis was desperate for in the passing attack.

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Wentz completed a 33-yard pass to veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a critical third-down conversion in the first half. But he had just one other completion of more than 20 yards, a 21-yarder to Michael Pittman Jr. during garbage time late in the final period.

There was a chance for a big play on fourth down to Parris Campbell with the game still barely in reach midway through the fourth quarter, but the star-crossed wide receiver couldn't pull in the deep ball.

"He's trying to get in his groove, find a groove," Hilton said of Wentz. "He did some really good things. We're just behind him, man, no matter what — good or bad. We're always going to have his back. I just appreciate him, man, appreciate his toughness, his hard work, man, the way he dedicates himself to his craft. He's good in my book."

Still, in 2022 Indianapolis will need him to be better.

Head coach Frank Reich didn't want to critique individual performances before watching the film — and admitted even then he's unlikely to simply unload on any single player — but he admitted everything and everyone is under constant evaluation in the NFL.

"This is the highest level there is," Reich said. "So we're all — it's all day-to-day stuff. So we love that about this business. I love that about this business. I never back away from that or shy away from that. As a coach, for the players, you put your best stuff out there. And if it's good enough, they want you back. If it's not good enough, they don't want you back.

"But as a player or a coach, you've got so much confidence in yourself that you feel like, 'I'm good.' If something didn't quite work out the way you wanted it one year, you've got confidence that you're going to put it out there the next year, whatever the case may be. I just think that's the way most players and coaches think, to be honest with you."
The Herald Bulletin (Anderson, Ind.) — www.theheraldbulletin.com — is distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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