HBO 'Hard Knocks' 2022: Best Colts Storylines, Moments, Reaction for Episode 8

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 6, 2022

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (53) calls out the play in the defensive huddle during an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)
AP Photo/Zach Bolinger

Much of HBO's Hard Knocks in Season: The Indianapolis Colts has been about the positive vibes circulating the AFC South team as it overcomes a slow start to the season and plays its way into playoff position.

That wasn't the case in Wednesday's episode.

After all, the Colts' three-game winning streak came to an end with their Week 17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. They could have clinched a postseason spot with a win but are instead still in limbo with one game remaining on their schedule.

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Playoff chances floating in the balance...<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> <a href="https://t.co/gOMmXcOEiR">pic.twitter.com/gOMmXcOEiR</a>

What's more, uncertainty surrounded the franchise in the lead-up to the game due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, quarterback Carson Wentz tested positive, which meant Indianapolis had to prepare for the possibility that rookie Sam Ehlinger would be under center against the Raiders.

Wentz wasn't the only one with concern, as the episode started with assistant coaches wondering if the team would have to go completely virtual. Running backs coach Scottie Montgomery telling Jonathan Taylor virtually to mask up if he went anywhere underscored the mood and urgency throughout the facility.

The quarterback position was the primary focus, though, as it looked as if Ehlinger would start. However, the NFL revised its COVID-19 policies, allowing even unvaccinated players like Wentz to return in five days if they are asymptomatic and cleared.

The Colts struggled during practice with so many players in and out, although Darius Leonard saw an opportunity to step in as a leader:


.<a href="https://twitter.com/dsleon45?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dsleon45</a> is a LEADER πŸ’―<br><br>A new episode of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> In Season with the <a href="https://twitter.com/Colts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Colts</a> premieres Wednesday 10pm ET on HBO/HBOMax <a href="https://t.co/ZoGQgKh90G">pic.twitter.com/ZoGQgKh90G</a>

Football also took a backseat for some of Wednesday's episode, as center Ryan Kelly returned to the team after taking a hiatus following the death of his unborn daughter, Mary Kate. He remained with his wife, Emma, and away from football for some time before making his way back to the team's facility ahead of the matchup with Las Vegas.

It was an emotional scene as he explained what he went through, and members of the organization embraced him.

"Selfishly, coming back to work keeps my mind on football, and it helps me to heal," Kelly said, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. "It feels right to be back. I know that being here is where I need to be right now. It doesn't make it easier. Take it minute by minute, and that's kind of how it goes."

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Happy to see 78 back πŸ’™<a href="https://twitter.com/Colts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Colts</a> family is special. <a href="https://t.co/2adu90dKF9">pic.twitter.com/2adu90dKF9</a>

Attention eventually turned to the 23-20 loss to the Raiders and Wentz's return.

It wasn't all bad news, as Taylor posted 108 yards and a touchdown on the ground while breaking Edgerrin James' single-season franchise record of 1,709 rushing yards. The dominant running back has 1,734 rushing yards with an opportunity to add to it during the NFL's first Week 18 in league history.

While Taylor was a bright spot, Wentz struggled with consistency on his way to 16-of-27 passing for 148 yards and a touchdown.

The touchdown only came because of good fortune when he threw a pass up for grabs, and it bounced in the air after wide receiver Ashton Dulin and defensive backs Casey Hayward Jr. and Tre'von Moehrig all went for it. It fluttered into the waiting hands of T.Y. Hilton, giving the Colts the lead in the third quarter.

Indianapolis Colts @Colts

JT isn't slowing down anytime soon – just ask his teammates.<br><br>New <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> tonight at 10 on <a href="https://twitter.com/hbomax?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HBOMax</a>. <a href="https://t.co/wFuotZIBaX">pic.twitter.com/wFuotZIBaX</a>

Indianapolis Colts @Colts

Stally's face said it all. 🀯<br><br>New <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> tonight at 10pm ET on <a href="https://twitter.com/hbomax?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HBOMax</a>. <a href="https://t.co/x0xy2OyY5W">pic.twitter.com/x0xy2OyY5W</a>

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Good guy <a href="https://twitter.com/dsleon45?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dsleon45</a> 😁<br><br>New <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> TONIGHT on <a href="https://twitter.com/hbomax?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HBOMax</a> <a href="https://t.co/WrnMswYTVt">pic.twitter.com/WrnMswYTVt</a>

However, the defense gave up a touchdown to Hunter Renfrow and a game-winning field goal by Daniel Carlson in the fourth quarter as Indianapolis fell to 9-7 and failed to clinch a playoff spot.

"Definitely one of the weirdest weeks of my NFL career, if not the weirdest," Wentz told reporters after the loss. "But we're good, locked in the virtual meetings. Just different, wouldn't say that's the reason for the performance or the reason we lost today by any means. Just a strange, strange week."

The good news for the Colts is the fact they can still clinch the playoffs with a win over the lowly 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars in the regular-season finale. It isn't their only path to the postseason, but relying on help elsewhere instead of defeating arguably the league's worst team would be a sign of problems heading into the playoffs.

That point will surely be stressed in the next episode of Hard Knocks.