Colts' collapse complete as loss eliminates them from playoffs

NEW ORLEANS -- The Indianapolis Colts’ playoff aspirations in the post-Andrew Luck era officially came to an end when the New Orleans Saints beat them 34-7 on Monday night.

The loss, their most lopsided under coach Frank Reich, eliminated the Colts from the playoffs, and it continued a plunge that has seen them go from first place in the AFC South at 5-2 on Oct. 27 to dropping their sixth game in the past seven. The Colts have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.

The current free fall is the opposite of the 2018 campaign, when the Colts started 1-5 but won nine of their final 10 games to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Losing a player of Luck’s caliber hurt, especially because the franchise quarterback retired two weeks before the start of the regular season. But the Colts’ problems run deeper.

They appeared to be staying afloat when they won five of their first seven games, which included victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. But the Colts, now 6-8, lacked the ability to finish, as six of their defeats have been by seven points or less this season.

Maybe it’s good that the Colts lost those games, because it allowed for their flaws to be put under the microscope for the future.

Injuries to the likes of wide receivers T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell and tight end Eric Ebron put into perspective that general manager Chris Ballard has to address the offensive skill positions the same way he attacked addressing the defense when he used seven of 10 draft picks on that side of the ball last season because the Colts lack depth.

The biggest question mark surrounding Ballard and the Colts might be what to do with quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Nobody expected Brissett to be Peyton Manning or Luck, the two franchise quarterbacks since 1998, but they also didn’t expect him to be as inconsistent during the second half of the season.

Ballard gave Brissett a three-year contract extension less than a week before the start of the regular season, but to say he is going to be the starter next season is shortsighted.

QB breakdown: Brissett, like the rest of his teammates, had a horrendous performance on Monday that started with an overthrown pass on a third-down play that should have resulted in a first down. He was 18-of-34 for 165 yards. To put into perspective how bad Brissett was, he had nearly the same number of completions (five) as there were punts (four) by the Indianapolis special-teams unit in the first half. Brissett’s accuracy continues to be a problem. He also missed throws to Hilton and running back Jordan Wilkins that would have been good enough for first downs when the Colts had a chance to stay in the contest during the first half.

No defense: The Colts' defense made breaking Manning’s career touchdown record an easy accomplishment for Saints quarterback Drew Brees. That’s been a theme for the Colts as of late when it comes to opposing quarterbacks having success in the air. Brees finished the game 29-of-30 for 307 yards and four touchdowns. Combine that with the proficient efforts of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston in Week 14 and the two were 62-of-75 for eight touchdowns against the Colts. The possible good news for the Colts is that the next two opponents they face, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, will be starting backup quarterbacks.