The Indianapolis Colts lost to the New England Patriots 45-7 on Sunday in the AFC Championship game. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
The defense was who we thought they were after all
Last week's dominating win over the Broncos instilled some hope in Colts fans. Maybe, just maybe, the defense had figured it out. Maybe, just maybe, the defense was becoming the monster they've been trying to build. After all, the last two games had been the best two performances of the season by the Colts' defense. There was a hesitant hope among many Colts fans that the defense would be able to carry over some of that impressive play to this week. But that didn't happen, and rather we saw that last week was just an aberration from something we've seen all season long. Simply put, the Colts' defense looks good (and even great at times) against bad to average offenses, but they look bad (and even terrible at times) against good offenses. The Broncos in week one. The Steelers in week eight. The Patriots in week eleven. The Cowboys in week sixteen. And then the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. This defense never got it going, and that continued over to the AFC title game. This loss doesn't negate their impressive performance against the Broncos. But it just reaffirms that this defense was who we thought they were all along this season. There are certainly some very encouraging things to build on, as at least the Colts looked good against the bad to average teams. That's a start. But it still falls short of where they want to be, and that was just illustrated yet again against the Patriots on Sunday.
Mistakes finally come back to hurt the Colts
Back in November and December, there was a four-game stretch in which the Colts turned the ball over 12 times, committed 29 penalties, and dropped nine passes, along with a number of other mistakes. The Colts went 4-0 in those games. But it had become a recurring issue for this Colts team, as they'd been making a number of mistakes that, against better teams, would have cost them. It finally did on Sunday against the Patriots. One of my keys to the game for the Colts entering the AFC Championship game was to make the Patriots beat you and not do it for them. Well, the Patriots beat the Colts alright - but the Colts played a supporting role. A muffed punt by Josh Cribbs when he tried to catch the football with his face mask. Three turnovers. A number of drops, including crucial ones by Boom Herron. Missed tackles. In short, there were a lot of mistakes by the Colts, and they finally came back to hurt them.
The Colts have a lot of work left to do this offseason
If you're like me, you sat there on Sunday watching the Colts get dominated by the Patriots thinking one thing: it was a good season, but the Colts have a lot of work to do this offseason. Last year, their goal in the offseason was to build to beat New England, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs. Well, guess what: this year, their goal in the offseason will be to beat New England, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs. We knew entering the game that the Colts had a lot of work to do, and so it wasn't really something that we "learned" in this game, but it's something that really stood out. Firstly, on the defensive side of the football. Inside linebacker is a huge need, and if you want to know why just go watch Sunday's AFC Championship game again. Safety is a big need. Depth at the cornerback spot is a need. Defensive line is a need (though how much of a need it is likely will be determined by whether Cory Redding returns or retires). Offensively, they need help at the wide receiver position, as the Colts struggled to get separation at all on Sunday (the receivers combined for just 2 catches for 51 yards on Sunday for the Colts). The offensive line could stand to be addressed as well, as despite their recent success they had an up and down day on Sunday. Running back is a spot the team likely will address, too. That's a lot of question marks for a team that was just in the AFC Championship game, and the game served as yet another reminder that, despite a good season, there's still plenty of work to be done this offseason as the team tries to take that next step.