Tuesday, December 28th, 2021 was looking to be a tumultuous day for Indianapolis Colts fans. Until it wasn’t.
At approximately 1:20 pm, the Colts placed QB Carson Wentz on the reserve/COVID-19 list following a positive test result. This seemed to be the tipping point for many Colts fans, as the team seemed to be losing everybody to positive coronavirus tests. Backing up a little bit, Indianapolis had been dealing with a COVID crisis which started on December 22nd when the team placed CB Rock Ya-Sin and DE Kemoko Turay on the list from the active roster, in addition to TE Farrod Green from the practice squad. Things began to unravel from there, with OG Mark Glowinski being added the next day. On Christmas Eve, one day before Indianapolis was scheduled to play the Arizona Cardinals in a primetime matchup on Christmas day, the Colts lost their other starting guard and arguably best offensive player, OG Quenton Nelson, when he became the newest addition to the COVID list. With Nelson out of action for Saturday, he made the list as the fifth player to be added to the list since Ya-Sin and Turay’s initial tests. But things did not stop there. On Christmas day, approximately four hours prior to kickoff, the Colts placed three more starters on the COVID list. S Khari Willis, WR Zach Pascal, and defensive and team leader LB Darius Leonard. Not to mention, S Andrew Sendejo had been ruled out with a concussion and C Ryan Kelly did not travel with the team as he dealt with a personal matter.
For a team fresh off a primetime win over their storied rivals, the New England Patriots, and a team that had won five of their last six games, hope that the team could pull out a win became hard to come by. With all the players out of the lineup with COVID, players with little experience were pushed into starting roles. LB EJ Speed, S George Odum, S Jahleel Addae, CB Isaiah Rodgers, C Danny Pinter, OG Will Fries, and OG Chris Reed were all propelled from their backup roles into starters.
During the game, more reinforcements were needed. TE Jack Doyle went down early with an injury, giving more snaps to Mo Alie-Cox and rookie Kylen Granson. LT Eric Fisher also left the game with an injury; Matt Pryor came in to take his place. Fisher’s injury left RT Braden Smith as the only starting offensive lineman left from the Colts’ usual lineup. Despite being down to practice squad offensive lineman and without many starters on defense, Indianapolis miraculously pulled out a Christmas miracle and won the game 22-16, making this win their third in a row. Jonathan Taylor was still able to continue his MVP caliber play behind a mangled offensive line and rushed for over 100 yards for the ninth time this season. Special shoutout to two of the guys in the middle, Chris Reed and Danny Pinter, for stepping up and carving out running lanes for Taylor. 2020 seventh-round pick wide receiver Dezmon Patmon, caught the biggest pass of his life: a touchdown from Carson Wentz to essentially put the game out of Arizona’s reach on just his second career reception. Talk about guys stepping up. Defensively, two of the guys called into action stepped up big time and shared the team lead in tackles with nine: EJ Speed and George Odum.
Fresh of their monumental win despite all the absences, Indianapolis enjoyed one day without any additions to the COVID list. But more positive tests were inevitable. On December 27th, the team placed five more players on the list: S Jahleel Addae, CB TJ Carrie, LB Malik Jefferson, RB Marlon Mack, and RT Braden Smith. (Practice squad CB Chris Wilcox went on the list later in the day) Smith was the big one. With four starting offensive linemen on the COVID list or dealing with personal matters and Eric Fisher’s injury raising questions about his availability, the Colts were in danger of starting an offensive line with five second-stringers against the Raiders. Obviously, this is far from ideal. But the least ideal transaction was yet to come.
The following day on December 28th, the Colts placed QB Carson Wentz on the COVID list. Wentz, like many of the Colts on the list, is unvaccinated. Under the NFL’s COVID protocols at the time, unvaccinated individuals must complete a 10-day quarantine before returning to team activities. Wentz knew this was a potential consequence of not getting vaccinated, as players who are vaccinated are allowed to “test out” given they are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic. Wentz was set to miss Sunday’s clash with Las Vegas, a game in which the Colts could clinch a playoff berth with a win. Like many spots on the roster already, backup quarterback, rookie Sam Ehlinger, was set to start in Wentz’s place. Amongst all the panic from Colts fans about this development emerged a new rumor: the Colts were discussing a potential reunion with future Hall of Fame QB Philip Rivers, who had retired after the 2020 season following his first and only season in Indianapolis. Fans were already picking sides –Ehlinger or Rivers – before reports emerged that the NFL was discussing an update to their protocols to reflect the CDC’s newest guideline changes. Per the CDC, those testing positive for the virus no longer needed to quarantine for ten days, cutting the time in half to five days. Without any specification of whether or not this change would apply to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the NFL updated their protocols to say that all players, including the unvaccinated, needed to quarantine for just five days, provided they were asymptomatic.
With these changes, the Colts may have dodged a bullet. Now, Carson Wentz at least has a shot to start on Sunday against the Raiders as long as he completes protocol by Saturday. He may have his starting offensive line back in front of him as well, with Quenton Nelson, Mark Glowinski, and Braden Smith having served their five days and Ryan Kelly potentially returning from his personal leave. Again, Eric Fisher’s status is dependent on his injury. Defensively, the Colts could return their leader, Darius Leonard to the lineup, as well as Khari Willis and Rock Ya-Sin to the secondary. While all players on the COVID list’s returns to action are contingent on the team officially activating them off the list, things are looking positive for Indianapolis to field a near full starting lineup for a game in which they can lock up a spot in the postseason. Who would’ve thought that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention would be responsible for reviving a football team’s roster? Only in 2021, I guess…