INDIANAPOLIS – Frank Reich’s first instinct Sunday was to defend his embattled quarterback.
The Indianapolis Colts head coach said Philip Rivers was the least of his worries after the 38-year-old threw two interceptions and was called for intentional grounding in the end zone during a frustrating 32-23 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
On Monday, Reich walked back that comment.
To a point.
“My statement yesterday – and this is not indicative of how I think Philip played, but I’ll just admit to you that the statement I made yesterday was probably dramatic and overdone,” Reich said during his weekly video call. “So my apologies for that statement yesterday, not the best statement. You guys know how I feel about quarterback play. The quarterback gets too much credit, too much blame. That doesn’t mean the quarterback has some games that aren’t better than others and some games aren’t worse than others.
“That’s for each of us to weigh as we see it. We weigh it internally. We look at all the plays. The ones that he made – he did make a number of plays in the game. Obviously, he made some mistakes. We all made mistakes – coaches and players in every phase.”
The raw numbers weren’t pretty.
Rivers’ 60.5 quarterback rating was his lowest of the season, and his completion percentage (63.6) and yards per attempt (7.4) were his second-worst performances.
The most glaring mistake came at the start of the third quarter, when Rivers telegraphed a third-down pass to veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton that was intercepted by Cleveland safety Ronnie Harrison and returned for a touchdown. That left the Colts (3-2) in a 17-point hole they couldn’t climb back from.
“The second half, it wasn’t good at all,” Rivers said. “The interception for a touchdown killed us.”
Even after back-to-back rough weeks, the quarterback’s 70.8 completion percentage remains the best of his career, and his 8 yards per attempt are his second-best total since 2014. But he’s thrown just four touchdown passes against five interceptions, and the offense has scored just two touchdowns on its last 22 possessions.
That’s a number nobody’s attempting to spin.
The second half of the schedule includes battles against the high-scoring Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers as well as five critical games against AFC South rivals.
The offense has produced eight touchdowns and 17 field goals as it continues to struggle on third down and in the red zone.
Those numbers must improve if Indianapolis hopes to contend for its first division title since 2014.
Reich readily admits as much, but he still firmly believes Rivers is the right man for the job. The third-year head coach shot down any notion of a change under center and re-affirmed his trust in the veteran starter.
“This guy is a Hall of Fame quarterback, and I have the utmost confidence and belief in him,” Reich said. “Our team has the utmost confidence and belief in him, and you have to live with some mistakes. The good is going to far outweigh the one or two bad things that happen, and we have to be a good enough team to overcome the one or two bad moments that we all have.”
Defensive end Denico Autry (ankle), safety Julian Blackmon (groin), tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and defensive end Justin Houston (hip) came out Sunday’s game with injuries. Autry and Blackmon returned to play after suffering their ailments, but Reich said all four players will be monitored throughout the week.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (rib) and linebacker Darius Leonard (groin) also will have their status closely watched after missing the loss at Cleveland.
“It is going to be too early to tell for next week,” Reich said, “but I think they’re making progress, and we’ll continue to monitor them.”