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This is a good week for the Patriots to play the Colts, who appear to be unraveling

These are trying times for Colts coach Frank Reich, though the team owner has said his job is not in jeopardy.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

The Colts’ performances this season haven’t been very entertaining.

They are 3-4-1 entering Sunday’s game against the Patriots, 1½ games behind the Titans in the AFC South and in 10th place in the conference.

And their games have been low-scoring and dull; the Colts have the 30th-ranked scoring offense (16.1 points per game), and their eight games have averaged just 35.75 total points, second-fewest in the NFL.

But coach Frank Reich’s Monday press conferences have suddenly become must-see.

Two Mondays ago, following a disappointing loss to the Titans, Reich shocked everyone, including his own locker room, by announcing he was benching quarterback Matt Ryan and elevating third-stringer Sam Ehlinger to starter.


This past Monday, after a 1-point loss to the Commanders, Reich again made a surprising decision, announcing that he had fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady after 1½ years in that role.

Reich said he isn’t naming an interim coordinator, instead spreading Brady’s duties among himself, quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich, and other assistants.

“Very, very difficult decision,” Reich said of Brady, who was a quarterbacks coach for three seasons in Indianapolis before being elevated to OC in 2021. “Sometimes it’s just right for a change and there’s something that makes sense for the team.”

The 4-4 Patriots are looking for payback for a 27-17 loss to the Colts last December that launched a late-season tailspin.

The Colts team that is coming to Foxborough looks to be unraveling. In addition to the moves at QB and OC, the Colts dealt productive running back Nyheim Hines to Buffalo at Tuesday’s trade deadline, getting back running back Zack Moss and a conditional sixth-round pick.

The Colts thought they would be contenders this year after trading a third-round pick to Atlanta for Ryan. Instead, Ryan has looked every bit of 37 years old, and the Colts offensive line, thought to be the best in the league, has been surprisingly inconsistent.


Second-year pro Sam Ehlinger has taken over at quarterback for Indianapolis.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The Colts somehow knocked off the Chiefs in Week 3, squeaked out a 12-9 win over the Broncos, and had an inspiring 34-27 comeback win over the Jaguars. But otherwise their offense has been wholly ineffective, prompting the switch to Ehlinger and the sacking of Brady.

“We’re very disgusted with where we are at right now with our record,” Reich said. “I really feel like we’ve gotten soundly beaten by one team this year. The rest was a lot of self-inflicted stuff.

“If we unite and fight the right way and play good football, I think we’ve already proven — we beat the Chiefs. Obviously, they are one of the better teams in the league. So if we do it the right way, we’ll win a lot of games.”

Prior to the Colts’ 17-16 loss to the Commanders, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Colts owner Jim Irsay “clarified, rather emphatically, that he is giving no thought to firing Frank Reich or Chris Ballard as GM.”

But the moves of the last two weeks certainly portray a coach and GM who are worried about their job security.

The Colts are a respectable 40-32-1 since Ballard hired Reich before the 2018 season, with two playoff appearances in his first four seasons. But they went a disappointing 9-8 last year and missed the playoffs, and this year are on course to miss the postseason again.


Reich’s biggest issue has been at quarterback, where Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019 led to a carousel the last four years of Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Ryan, and now Ehlinger.

Reich was asked Wednesday if he “scapegoated” Brady, and acknowledged it was a fair question. Though Brady was the offensive coordinator, Reich has been the offensive play-caller for all five seasons. So why was Brady the only one forced to account for the dreadful offense, not Reich, or the quarterbacks coaches, or the offensive line coach?

“He’s not being scapegoated, but I understand how that perception is,” Reich said. “I have to own that, but I can tell you it’s a collaborative effort. Marcus obviously plays a role. We all work together, we’re all responsible for the work that we do. Marcus did a good job. Ultimately, I made a decision I thought was best for the team.”

No question, the Colts offense has been surprisingly dreadful. In one year, they have dropped from ninth to 30th in scoring, and from second to 29th in rushing yards. They are one of two teams not to have scored a point on an opening drive all season (also the Texans). They have a league-worst minus-63 point differential in the first half. They average 4.22 points per trip inside the red zone, third-fewest.

And in Sunday’s loss to Washington, the Colts lost two fumbles in or near the red zone, and allowed the Commanders to march 89 yards for the last-second, game-winning touchdown. Receiver Michael Pittman also dropped a pass that would have set up the Colts for a game-winning field goal.


“Maybe things around here would be different today if I make that catch,” Pittman told the Indianapolis Star Wednesday. “I’m feeling the weight of that.”

Matt Ryan threw nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in seven games this season.Andy Lyons/Getty

The move to Ehlinger was perhaps also a scapegoating of Ryan, who may not play another down this season as he deals with a shoulder injury and a $17 million injury guarantee on his contract next year. Nick Foles had been the backup, but the Colts decided to give a shot to Ehlinger, last year’s sixth-round pick who had never thrown a regular-season NFL pass before last Sunday.

Ehlinger was steady in the loss to Washington, completing 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also showed athleticism on a few designed runs.

Now Ehlinger’s first career road start comes in a hostile Gillette Stadium, against a Patriots defense that leads the league with 16 takeaways. Star running back Jonathan Taylor may not play because of an ankle injury. And the Colts are dealing with a maelstrom of issues, from coaching to offensive line play to the mood of the team.

“It just comes down to controlling what you can control,” Ehlinger said. “You will exhaust yourself mentally and physically if you try to worry about all the pieces that you can’t move.

“So for me, obviously, learning a lot. Haven’t been exposed to this level of the business aspect of sport, but controlling what I can control and making sure that my performance and preparation is what I’m focused on.”


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.