Mike Lopresti: Can Colts start on winning note?

Sports: Mike LoprestiNot to dwell on how long it’s been since the Colts have won a season opener, but the last time it happened, the Rams were in St. Louis, the Raiders were in Oakland, the Chargers were in San Diego, and Pro Bowler Jonathan Taylor was a freshman in high school.

Eight in a row. That’s the hefty losing streak the Colts will be lugging into Kickoff Weekend. Watch that first step—it’s a doozy. The next-longest opening-day losing skid in the NFL, by the way, is five. This octet of 0-1 starts has come against eight different teams, six of whom don’t even have the same head coach anymore.

There have been all manners of defeat, from overtime against the Chargers to a 46-9 thrashing by the Rams. Location hasn’t mattered much; five of the losses have come on the road, three at home. Neither has the starting Indianapolis quarterback. Five different men have shared in the drought.

We mention all this because it will be a pertinent storyline next week when the Colts head to Houston to begin the 2022 season. “We have an understanding of where we want to go, but the only way you get there is to attack week after week. It has to be about playing well Week 1,” said Matt Ryan, who now will take his quarterback turn trying to put a stop to the Opening Day Onus.

The Colts will be favored by a bunch. There is every chance this ends now. But if it doesn’t, that will mean the streak includes defeats in all four continental U.S. time zones. It should be noted that one week in September can’t define a team (although 14 of the past 18 Super Bowl champions started 1-0, including the 2006 Colts). But not immediately playing from behind in the standings would be a refreshing change.

Either way, after Houston, then what?

Here are a few other stops on the 2022 road to come, with reminders that the Colts aren’t the only team with a bad habit to break:

Week 2, at Jacksonville. The Colts return to the scene of the crime—namely, the 26-11 season finale belly flop that killed their playoff chances last January. As for the Jaguars, just five years ago, they barged into the AFC Championship Game and nearly beat Tom Brady and New England. They’re 15-50 since.

Week 3, Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes makes a fine co-star for the Indianapolis home opener. As for the Chiefs, they’ve been ousted from the playoffs twice in the past four years in overtime. Near-misses tend to eat at a team.

Week 5, at Denver. First of four scheduled night games for the Colts, who have been judged ready for prime time again. As for the Broncos, the last time they dressed for a playoff game, the quarterback was Peyton Manning and the moment was the Super Bowl. Then Manning retired, and so apparently did the Broncos from the postseason. They haven’t made it back in the sixyears since.

Week 7, at Tennessee. Odd scheduling. This will already be the fifth AFC South game for the Colts. Then come nine in a row against non-division opponents. Such a front-loaded division schedule means that, if Indianapolis is to seize control of the South as many predict, it probably has to be early. As for the Titans, the past three seasons in the playoffs, they have blown two double-digit leads and lost the third on a walk-off field goal. Ouch.

Week 8, Washington. The Colts haven’t lost to Washington in 20 years, but then they’ve met only four times in that stretch, and just once before in Lucas Oil. As for the Commanders, they haven’t won a playoff game in 16 years. Back when everyone was still calling them the Redskins.

Week 10, at Las Vegas. When last seen by the Colts in January, the Raiders were beating them as time expired in Lucas Oil Stadium—another late-season stake through the heart of Indy’s playoff hopes. As for the Ramblin’ Raiders—they’ve gone from Oakland to Los Angeles, back to Oakland, and now Las Vegas—remember Al Davis’ iconic mantra: Just win, baby. Except, baby hasn’t won in ages. The Raiders’ last postseason victory was the AFC Championship Game for the 2002 season, nearly 20 years ago.

Indianapolis’ 28-16 loss against running back Chris Carson and the rest of the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 12, 2021, was the Colts’ eighth losing season opener in a row. (AP photo)

Week 12, Pittsburgh. Monday night after Thanksgiving in Lucas Oil Stadium should be lively, but the Steelers have lately been nothing but bad news for the Colts, who have dropped seven meetings in a row going back to 2008. As for the Steelers, they haven’t won a postseason game in five years, which is not that long in some places but an alarming dry spell in Pittsburgh. Also, Ben Roethlisberger has retired, and their home is now called Acrisure Stadium. The Heinz Field past is vanishing, ketchup bottles and all.

Week 13, at Dallas. Last time the Colts won in Dallas, their quarterback was Jim Harbaugh, who led a rally from 18 points down. That was 26 years ago. As for the Cowboys, with their eight Super Bowl appearances of yore, should you still be allowed to call yourself America’s Team when you haven’t even played in a conference championship game in 26 years?

Week 15, at Minnesota. The Colts have owned Minnesota, lock, stock and Viktor the Viking, winning six meetings in a row. Their last defeat was in the year 1 BP. Before Peyton. In other words, 1997. As for the Vikings, they played in four of the first 11 Super Bowls. Lost them all, but they were there. They haven’t played in any of the next 45.

Week 16, Los Angeles Chargers. They’ve been a real pain in the tail pad for Indianapolis, the Colts going 2-7 against them since 2004 and twice getting knocked from the playoffs. As for the Chargers, they own one Super Bowl trip to their name, and that was 28 years ago.

Week 17, at New York Giants. The Colts haven’t lost to these guys in 20 years, winning the past four meetings. As for the Giants, know the location of their last postseason victory? Yep, the corner of Capitol and South, beating New England in Indianapolis—which hosted Super Bowl XLVI. That’s more than a decade ago. The City That Never Sleeps never gets to the postseason lately, either. The two New York teams—Giants and Jets—have together appeared in exactly one playoff game in 10 years. The Giants lost to Green Bay in a 2016 season wildcard, 38-13.

Week 18, Houston. The Colts finish the way they started, facing Houston. By then, we’ll know how the Matt Ryan debut year has gone. As for the Texans, they’ve won four playoff games in their entire history. The Rams won that many last winter on the way to taking the Super Bowl.

So, lots of teams carry ugly patterns to break, and losing eight consecutive season openers is small change compared to some. But the Colts still badly need it to be over.•

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Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mjl5853@aol.com.

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