The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Houston Texans 26-23 in overtime on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the term "learn" loosely):
The Colts looked the best they had all year on Sunday...
For the first three and a half quarters on Sunday, the Colts looked to be putting together their best performance of the year. Of course, that’s really not a high standard, but they were at least solid. Andrew Luck was good enough, throwing for 252 yards and a touchdown and a pick while also adding a career-high 53 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground too. Luck wasn’t great, but he was still good enough to win. Frank Gore rushed for 106 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry, notching the Colts’ first 100-yard performance since 2012. Players like Chester Rogers and Jack Doyle stepped up in the receiving game. Adam Vinatieri hit all three field goal attempts. Pat McAfee averaged 45.4 yards per punt and pinned three of his five punts inside the 20 yard line. Vontae Davis played very well against DeAndre Hopkins and made a fantastic interception. The defense for the most part shut down the Texans’ passing offense (which we now know for sure was just due to how terrible Brock Osweiler was), and Robert Mathis even recorded a strip-sack (his first of the season). Again, it wasn’t perfect and at times it felt like the Colts were just barely keeping things together, but they looked on their way toward putting together their best 60 minutes of football on the year. And then it all fell apart.
... and then they didn’t
After the dust settled from the shock of the Colts actually blowing their game against the Texans, this much became evident: it was the worst loss of the Chuck Pagano era. There have been several blowout losses, some playoff defeats, and some upsets, but blowing a 14 point fourth quarter lead in the final minutes of a key division game to a Brock Osweiler-led offense? That’s the kind of loss that’s damning. The Texans marched down the field with ease on their final three drives of the game (including overtime), and they just completely dominated the Colts. It was a massive, utterly embarassing collapse for the team that was just minutes away from the AFC South lead. And despite their promising first three and a half quarters, the fourth quarter and overtime were just horrendous.
There’s a lot about Sunday’s game that can be pointed out to illustrate how bad things were. For example: the Colts had won 41 straight regular season road games in which they led in the fourth quarter, dating back over ten years. The Colts had a win probability of 99% at a certain point in the fourth quarter on Sunday. It was the second blown 14-point lead in the Pagano tenure, and the first one to take place in the fourth quarter. It was the first time since 2011 that a team blew a 14+ point lead in the final three minutes of a game. And Brock Osweiler on Sunday completed just 11 of 22 passes for 89 yards and a pick in the first three quarters, for a passer rating of 41.7. In the fourth quarter? He completed 14 of 17 passes for 180 yards and two scores for a passer rating of 143.8. It was bad, and it’s hard not to wonder whether this game could prove to costly for Chuck Pagano’s future with the team.
The AFC South is still bad - but with a twist
For many years, the Indianapolis Colts were able to beat up the AFC South as the weakest division in football. The Colts put together an NFL record win streak against their division, but since then they have lost four of their past five games to the AFC South. Earlier this year they lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, and then on Sunday they lost a 14 point lead to the Houston Texans in an overtime loss. The game on Sunday was just another example that the AFC South still isn’t that great, but here’s the twist: the Colts are just as bad, and perhaps worse, than the other teams in the division. No longer are they the team that dominates the other teams in the worst division in football; now they’re the team in the last place in that division that is 0-2 against the AFC South and that just blew a 14 point lead.
Consider this: the Texans looked awful with Brock Osweiler at quarterback on Sunday, yet they still mounted a huge comeback to win it. And the Jaguars had struggled to get anything going coming into their game against the Colts, and they handled Indy in that game. And the Colts haven’t even played the Titans, who are a solid 3-3 so far this year - and who host the Colts next week. The Colts are in dead last in the division right now, so no longer are they the class of the AFC South. Instead, they’re very much a part of the division’s struggles. So maybe the division is improved, but it’s still bad - only now, the Colts are just as bad as the rest of it.