Even though the Colts and the Bengals played in the cold, both teams scored quite a few points. The Colts scored 28, the Bengals scored 35, and the referees, not wanting to be left out of the action, scored 7.
The refs were terrible (and I'll have more on this later), but that's not the sole reason the Colts lost. It changed the game, sure, but the Colts defense was terrible. Just terrible. The 42 points allowed today are the most by the Colts defense with Chuck Pagano on the sidelines as their head coach (they gave up 59 to the Patriots last year when Pagano was gone and battling leukemia).
There were actually quite a few positives for the offense today, which I'll get to. And, of course, I'll get to the officiating. But there is no where else to start but with the defense, and that's where I'll begin my game notes today.
- This defense stunk today. The Bengals got 28 first downs and 430 yards of offense while controlling the ball for 37:45. Andy Dalton was 24 of 35 for 275 yards with 3 touchdowns and no picks and scored a rushing touchdown, too. Giovani Bernard had 148 total yards and BenJarvus Green-Ellis added 48 yards and 2 scores on the ground. The Colts recorded zero sacks and didn't even record a single quarterback hit, and they only had one tackle for loss. As I already mentioned, the 42 points were the most given up by the Colts this season and the most given up in the 18 games that Pagano has coached from the sidelines. It was the ugliest performance, too.
- I think that this could ultimately be the final straw for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and I don't think he'll be back next year. I don't want to overreact or base opinions solely off of emotion. Understand that if I did that, I'd be like the countless Colts fans who do that and I would say that Chuck Pagano should be fired in the locker room today. But I'm not saying that, and I think he absolutely should and will be back next year. I'm not going to try and defend him as a good coach, but I'm absolutely going to say that he deserves one more year. And I'll also say that I think the problem is more Pagano than Manusky and that Pagano should hold more responsibility than Manusky. Pagano isn't going to get fired, however, but he likely will fire someone as a scapegoat, and that person could very well be Greg Manusky. I think he has done an ok job this year with the talent he has, but I just don't see how he sticks around last year. This isn't based just off of this game alone, but I think this game might have been the final straw.
- Not to absolve Pagano of all blame, however - why punt down 14 points midway through the fourth quarter? Why? Someone on twitter tried to say that he was playing it safe and trying to keep it close, but down 14 with 7 minutes left and giving the ball back to the other team doesn't really seem like keeping it close to me. That was a dumb decision, and it ended up looking even dumber, as the Colts gained just 5 net yards by punting due to a long return by the Bengals. Oh, and what about Pagano letting 40 seconds run off the clock before the end of the first half? The Colts ended up getting the ball back with 59 seconds left but they could have had 40 extra seconds had Pagano used a timeout.
- While we're on the topic of stupid, how about Kelvin Sheppard. He made a great stop for loss, but at the end of the play he got right in the player's face and taunted him. The refs made the correct call for once (of course, it was against the Colts), and it cost the Colts yards and helped the Bengals drive downfield for a score. Of all the penalties in football, taunting is perhaps the easiest to avoid. And that was one of the dumbest penalties he could have gotten. He should have been benched immediately after that.
- Why was Sheppard even playing in the first place? He's not that good.
- The Colts keep trying to play inside linebacker Pat Angerer in coverage and the fact is that he's just not good in coverage at all. It's kind of like Donald Brown and pass blocking - we all know his failures, but at some point it's up to the coaches to limit Brown's opportunities to pass block. The same thing is true of Angerer and coverage. We all know he's bad in coverage, but it's up to the coaches to try and avoid putting him in those situations as much as they can.
- The secondary was terrible today. Vontae Davis looks just plain bad. Darius Butler looked terrible today too, but keep in mind that he was playing at the number two corner spot (instead of the slot, where he is best) and was covering A.J. Green often. I'm not sure I would have benched Cassius Vaughn for Butler in this game, but neither one of them (nor Greg Toler, either) would have been able to stop this Bengals passing attack today.
- LaRon Landry continues to be terrible. Antoine Bethea isn't playing that well, either (despite the fact that he had 17 tackles today). The safeties are a big concern.
- The Colts again started slow and again they faced a double digit halftime deficit (thanks to the refs) and more significantly they were shut out in the first half. The slow starts are still an issue, but there were actually some positives from this game from the offense.
- The wide receivers were the biggest positive. After five weeks of TERRIBLE wide receiver play, they actually got some great play in the second half today. Darrius Heyward-Bey was benched to start the game in favor of the rookie Da'Rick Rogers, and immediately it was apparent that Rogers's speed gives him an advantage and the ability to create separation. As the game went on, however, Rogers showed much more than that. He showed us all why he was incredibly hyped amongst Colts fans and totally lived up to the high expectations. He had never caught a pass before, and today he caught 6 for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. The biggest highlight was when he caught a crossing route and broke a tackle and went running for a 69 yard score. LaVon Brazill was also very impressive, catching 3 passes for 53 yards and 2 scores. Entering the day he had 8 catches for 97 yards and 0 scores on the year, and in fact he had only one career touchdown catch entering the game. Brazill's highlight came when he caught a slant and took it up the middle, breaking 6 tackles and scoring a 19 yard touchdown. DHB actually caught 2 passes for 23 yards, but there is no reason for him to be anything more than the 4th wide receiver. Rogers and Brazill, along with T.Y. Hilton, are all talented players and they all could prove to be a huge boost to Andrew Luck and the offense.
- Andrew Luck played well today, too - easily his best game since the bye week. He completed 29 of 46 passes (63%) for 326 yards (7.1 YPA), 4 touchdowns, and no picks. It was the first time this season and second time in his career he has thrown 4 touchdowns in a game, and the previous time (at Detroit last year) he threw three picks. It was also Luck's third 300 yard passing day of the season. In addition, he completed passes to nine different players and was the team's leading rusher with 2 carries for 32 yards (16 yards per carry), including a career long 29 yard rush. He played very well today.
The offensive line was much, much better in terms of pass protection (and run protection too, really). The starting lineup today was Anthony Castonzo, Joe Reitz, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, and Gosder Cherilus. The only newcomer to that group was Joe Reitz at left guard, and he played very well. There was only one time all game I remember him giving up significant pressure. He was a massive upgrade over Hugh Thonrton, and I think the Colts absolutely need to stick with this offensive line next week. For comparison, here is how today's game compared to recent weeks in terms of pass protection (stats from ESPN):
Colts Pass Protection since Bye Week Game Sacks QB Hits @ Houston Texans 4 11 St. Louis Rams 3 7 @ Tennessee Titans 1 4 @ Arizona Cardinals 1 8 Tennessee Titans 5 8 @ Cincinnati Bengals 0 4
- I thought that Trent Richardson played well today too, and in fact I thought it was his best game as a Colt. He rushed 6 times for 20 yards (3.3 yards per carry), good enough for the team's second leading rusher, and he was also their second leading receiver, catching 5 passes for 68 yards on 6 targets. Total, he gained 88 yards on 11 touches, good for 8 yards per play. Since coming to Indianapolis, his most total yards in a game was 66 prior to today, and only five times did he top 50 total yards. Today, he got 88 total yards, good for his highest total on the season. Still not great for a first round pick, but perhaps the most important thing is that we're seeing some improvement from him. And I'm glad to see them get him involved in the passing game more, too - I've been saying they needed to for a while.
- If Sergio Brown isn't in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, something is seriously wrong. He is a phenomenal special teams player and I have a hard time believing there is anyone playing any better. His play led to two punts being downed inside the five yard line today.
- The coverage units on special teams were rather suspect today.
- Maybe Chris Rainey should only return kicks and not punts. He muffed his second one in as many weeks today, although the Colts have recovered both of them. That's the problem with T.Y. Hilton being the number one wideout - they can't really play him at punt returner. We'll see if now that Rogers and Brazill showed something today Pagano decides to go back to Hilton at punt returner. I'd guess not, but Rainey hasn't been that good there.
- Adam Vinatieri missed his only field goal try of the game, a 44-yard attempt that just barely missed. It was just the second 40+ yard try of the year that he has missed, and he is now 11 of 13 on the year from 40+ yards out.
- Ok, first off, here's a disclaimer: I'm not blaming the referees for this loss. I'm not. But at the same time, I'm not going to just ignore an egregious call, and the NFL shouldn't either. The TV announcers said shortly after the call that either way, the Colts still trailed (even though it was now 14-0 instead of 7-0, a big difference). But why ignore issues unless they cost a team a game, because that is inevitably coming (again) and the issue needs to be addressed now. I'm not blaming the referees for this Colts loss, but I'm also not ignoring the fact that this game would have been very different had the refs gotten that call right. I'm not saying the Colts would have won (although they might have), I'm just saying the course of the game would have been different.
- The Play: The Colts stopped the Bengals on 4th and goal from inside the 2 yard line. Josh Chapman (Chapnado!) made the play (his first big one of the year) and immediately got pressure from the interior. He forced the running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, outside, but just before that he grabbed Green-Ellis's foot and tripped him up. The running back fell and the ball landed inches short of the goal line - but clearly short, nonetheless. The play was reviewed for a while, and they were looking to see whether anyone touched Green-Ellis. If no one did, then it was a touchdown. The first few views (from the sidelines) were incredibly hard to tell, but keep in mind - it was ruled short on the field. More camera angles started coming in and it was clear that Chapman got Green-Ellis's foot. At the very least, there was no way that there was conclusive evidence to support the RB not being touched, and in fact there was nearly conclusive evidence that he was. But inexplicably, Jeff Triplette came out and said that the ruling on the field was reversed and that Green-Ellis wasn't touched and that it was a Bengals touchdown, putting Cincinnati up 14-0. Take a look at the picture and see for yourself. Look at Green-Ellis's back leg and it looks clear that Chapman has him by the foot.
- The Reaction: It was instaneous and unanimous - Triplette screwed up big time. If you recall, he was the ref for the Redskins/Giants game last week where he botched the situation regarding the false first down. Immediately, Greg Gumbel, the CBS announcer for the game, said, "Are you kidding me? Not touched? What did he think he tripped on back there?" At halftime, Boomer Esiason said, "Jeff Triplette needs to look for a new job, because that is a MAJOR mistake right there." Here are a few more reactions (including from Mike Pereira, the former head of officiating for the NFL):
- The Aftermath: The referees made several other questionable calls too, and almost all of them were against the Colts. They had two iffy defensive pass interference calls and missed an intentional grounding call on the Bengals too. Nothing super major, but the refs weren't good at all throughout the whole game.
- The Bottom Line: There needs to be more than an apology. That just doesn't do it. This was a significant game that involved two playoff bound teams that could have a HUGE impact on playoff seeding. And the NFL's referee - for the second week in a row - really screws up. This one was terrible. Inexcusable. I read Peter King's tremendous referee profiles this week, and he talked about downgrades for officials - giving just one for that call seems like an injustice. Triplette should NOT ref a playoff game and he should lose his job, honestly. He repeatedly misses calls and this one was terrible. The NFL needs to do more than issue an apology. If that's all they do, then we know that they're just waiting until an official truly blows the game (again - it's happened before), and then it will be too late. This was inexcusable. I sincerely hope the NFL doesn't excuse it, either.