Doyel: Think practice would've helped Carson Wentz play better against Raiders? He doesn't.

Gregg Doyel
Indianapolis Star

Practice doesn’t matter. Not to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz. That’s what he was saying after this 23-20 loss to Las Vegas, a game the Colts should have won at Lucas Oil Stadium to qualify for the 2021 NFL playoffs. You can’t count on Carson for much, but you can count on that ol’ boy for one thing: He will be clueless – blameless – to the bitter end.

See, if Carson Wentz was going to admit that practice matters, that he played so dismally Sunday – that he missed T.Y. Hilton with an easy pass that probably wins this game, among other passing atrocities – he’d have to admit that he screwed up. That he hadn’t done everything he could do, as the quarterback of this team, as its leader, to be available for practice.

Nope, that’s not Carson’s M.O. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, which on this day meant mangling the biggest game of the season, as so many Colts fans had feared when the franchise chose to make this guy its quarterback. He’d lost his way in Philadelphia because of injuries, yes, and because of his mental makeup. Teammates reportedly didn’t like him, maybe because NFL players are experts at sniffing out fake, and he lost his job there. Now he’s here.

Cracking in the biggest game of the season.

And then not having the guts, the decency, to admit he screwed it up. Or, better yet, why.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) is brought down by Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, during a game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Colts still going to NFL playoffs

The Colts are probably going to the playoffs anyway. They still control their own destiny, as we like to say, meaning they are assured of a spot in the playoffs by beating Jacksonville next week.

The Jaguars stink. I mean, they’re awful. They were blown out 50-10 Sunday by the same New England team the Colts manhandled a few weeks back. Urban Meyer is gone, but his legacy of loser remains. The 9-7 Colts could beat the 2-14 Jags next week in Jacksonville with Carson Wentz’s right hand tied behind his back.

Which isn’t a bad idea.

After a surprisingly decent start to the season, Wentz has been mediocre at best over the last seven games, throwing for 1,180 yards (169 yards per game) and eight touchdowns (with three interceptions) in that span. One reason for Jonathan Taylor’s unusual MVP candidacy as a running back is that people are aware the Colts are winning in spite of their quarterback. Throwing for 169 yards per game in today’s NFL? That’ll get you beat, unless your running back is just that much better than everyone else. Taylor is.

More:Jonathan Taylor continues historic season as he breaks Edgerrin James' Colts record

So, Jacksonville, where the Colts will win next week. That game’s a gimme. Taylor is that good, and this defense is that good, too. Rising star cornerback Isaiah Rodgers made a sublime interception against Raiders speedster DeSean Jackson, running him down and making a leaping grab despite the attempts of Jackson to prevent it. This was Rodgers’ third career pick, all this season, all in the final 11 games. More coming.

Linebacker Darius Leonard did his thing again, bolo-punching one ball loose – it rolled out of bounds, or the Colts might’ve gotten it – and racing down an interception. Like Wentz, Leonard wasn’t supposed to play Sunday but benefited from the CDC reducing its recommended isolation time after a positive COVID test from 10 days to five. Leonard, who missed last week’s game, a win at Arizona, returned to practice on Tuesday.

Maybe this is me being silly, but I’m thinking practice matters for an NFL player.

Carson Wentz being foolproof, he’s thinking it doesn’t.

Listen up: Do I have a history with Wentz, or specifically with his anti-vaccination stance that hurts society and could crush his team, despite having the most critical position on the field and highest-profile job in the state? Do I have a beef with his selfish choice to ignore the indisputable evidence – I’m going to dispute arguments concocted by idiots – for taking the vaccine?

Yeah, I do.

But after this game, after this emotional week – with players going on and off the COVID list, with the playoffs at stake, with heartbroken center Ryan Kelly making his return to the complex this week and playing unbelievably well on Sunday – I was going to write about the big picture. Here’s how this looked. Here’s how that looked. Here’s how the whole thing feels. That’s what I told my bosses, and our Colts coverage team, in an email at halftime.

More:Center Ryan Kelly returns to Colts with a heavy heart following daughter's death

But then someone asked Carson Wentz after the game about the days leading up to this game.

And that son of a gun.

Carson Wentz speaks. Nauseating.

I’m not calling Carson Wentz a liar. That would be rude. Let’s just say: I found his postgame news conference to be … nauseating.

First question, something nice and easy about the week being weird, right up to Sunday morning when he was finally cleared to play.

“Kind of a weird week, obviously,” he said, big smile behind his black mask, because wouldn’t you be smiling after this game? “Definitely one of the weirdest weeks of my NFL career, if not the weirdest.”

He kept going.

“Felt pretty good,” he said. “Was locked in on virtual meetings, but couldn’t be around the guys, obviously.”

Kept going.

“It was different,” he said, “but I wouldn’t say that’s the reason for the performance or the loss today by any means. Felt fine out there, felt good all week. Just a strange, strange week.”

Right.

Next question, just as easy, and here’s where I’m not calling Carson Wentz a liar. Just nauseating. Simple question, a reporter wondering when he was able to workout after testing positive on Tuesday for COVID-19.

“Uh, it was …” here Wentz pauses, which is unusual because he’s polished, a big piece of shiny plastic. He’s still pausing, and now he’s literally humming aloud as he tries to decide how to answer an easy question. You’d think the truth would come out faster, but hey, it’s Carson’s truth.

Let’s rewind the tape.

“Uh, it was …” he stops, then starts humming. “Really right early in the week. Right after … I mean, I felt pretty good the whole time. Chalk it up to being late in the season – I always feel sluggish on Monday and Tuesday. Hard to say, but I felt good Wednesday.”

He felt sluggish on Monday and Tuesday. Because he had COVID-19? Hard to say. It's late in the season, you know. Earlier in the week Reich had suggested Carson wasn’t feeling good, but Reich is a truly decent and honest man, not just playing the role when it suits him.

Wentz was 16-for-27 for 148 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown, and 45 of those yards, were a fluke. He threw a stupid pass, heaving it on the run from midfield to the end zone, into double coverage, where Raiders defensive backs Tre’Von Moehrig and Casey Hayward Jr. were fighting for the ball along with Colts receiver Ashton Dulin. The three of them combined to tap it backward, into the end zone, where for some reason Colts veteran TY Hilton is standing. Hilton grabs the gift and is giggling, literally giggling, at his good fortune.

T.Y. deserved a touchdown Sunday, just not that one. I’m thinking of the second play of the fourth quarter, Colts still leading 17-13. For whatever reason the Raiders didn’t cover Hilton on third-and-7 from the Colts’ 23. There’s Hilton, streaking alone near midfield, and Wentz sees him and throws it and … misses him. Badly.

Colts punt, Raiders drive for a TD for a 20-17 lead with 11:18 left. Colts embark on a long drive that eats up nearly 9½ minutes with Wentz completing 4-of-5 passes for 21 whole yards. His last two tosses, gains of zero and 3 yards on second-and-9 and third-and-9, lead to the tying field goal. Raiders get the ball, drive for the FG on the final play, and that’s it.

You think maybe Wentz would’ve connected with T.Y. on that easy pass if they'd had any time this week on the practice field? Nobody asked Wentz what he thinks about his lack of practice – nobody even asked him: Paper or plastic? – but he volunteered both answers anyway.

“I wouldn’t say that’s the reason for the performance or the loss today,” he’d said, “by any means.”

Paper or plastic? Eh, he’s both.

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