On Sunday night, the Indianapolis Colts blew a 14-point lead in the final three minutes of the game to the Houston Texans. Then in overtime, they lost 26-23.
It was an amazing turn around and an amazing collapse for a team that finally was starting to look competitive, and that’s where we’ll start in our recap upon re-watching the tape:
- Colts were playing well... until they weren’t. As I mentioned, the Colts were actually doing quite a few good things in the first three and a half quarters. Their offense was good enough, and while they weren’t exactly finishing drives (once again, Adam Vinatieri is incredibly valuable) they were at least getting into scoring position. Frank Gore was running well, the line was protecting, and Andrew Luck looked good. And of course, Vinatieri and Pat McAfee were kicking very well. The defense was the bigger surprise, as they did a very good job of limiting the Texans offense, and the fact that they were facing Brock Osweiler shouldn’t totally diminish what Indy did. Let’s put it this way: the first three quarters of the game would give you no indication that the team would blow it at the end. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to make a statement that the Colts look like the best team in the AFC South. But they didn’t finish. And the last half of the fourth quarter was downright terrible all around, particularly on the defensive side of the football but also offensively. It’s truly amazing that this team was able to blow that game, but the team we saw in the latter part of the fourth quarter didn’t look like the team we saw in the first three quarters. I actually think this is one of those instances where Chuck Pagano actually tells it like it is: “As far as the tape goes, we all saw what happened,” he said yesterday. “The film wasn’t any different. I think what we are right now is a three-quarter team and we have to find a way to become a four-quarter team. A lot of good football there. We start some games slow and finish strong and we started that one really good, strong and didn’t finish well obviously. Credit Houston, they played well, they got the momentum there late and made plays and we didn’t execute down the stretch the way that we executed early in that game.”
- Cornerbacks are a bright spot. I was really impressed with the play of the Colts’ cornerbacks on Sunday night. Vontae Davis shadowed DeAndre Hopkins (NBC said he requested to do so, but he told the media later he didn’t - but when pressed about it, he said it was between him and the coaches), and Davis did a very good job. According to Pro Football Focus, DeAndre Hopkins had just four catches on eight targets for 31 yards when covered by Davis, and Vontae also made a great interception. Also impressive was Rashaan Melvin, who was starting on the outside in place of the injured Patrick Robinson. Melvin has done a good job this year (and Ryan Grigson keeps mentioning him as a guy the Colts like), and Sunday night Melvin did a good job in coverage as well. And the third guy in that trio was Darius Butler, who played primarily as the nickel cornerback but impressed there. I thought that Davis, Melvin, and Butler all did a nice job on Sunday, looked good, and were the bright spot of the defense.
- Other than that, defense struggled. The pass coverage was good (until the collapse, that is), but the run defense and the pass rush once again struggled. The Texans rushed for 158 yards (Lamar Miller had 149 of them) and averaged 5.6 yards per rush, and only one Texans run was stopped for a loss of yards (out of 28 total plays). And in the area of pas rush, the Colts managed just one sack (hello, Robert Mathis) and five quarterback hits. The defense did a good enough job in holding Houston early, especially behind the strength of their pass coverage, but it wasn’t a great performance for them overall. Again, it was good enough early on, but the issues were exposed in the fourth quarter.
- The worst play of the game? With 2:47 left in the fourth quarter, Lamar Miller caught a short pass from Brock Osweiler and ran it into the end zone for a ten yard touchdown. But it represented the worst play of the game for the Colts, and I feel safe saying it’s the worst play of the season for them too. In short, Miller faced a situation where he had the ball and faced seven Colts defenders in the area with only one Texan, and yet he still managed to score. It’s absolutely inexcusable and laughably bad defense. The Colts were in position to stop it for a minimal gain on 3rd and 7, doing exactly what they needed to do... and managed to blow it epically. Take a look for yourself at the situation, and yes, Miller somehow scored on this play:
- Chester Rogers, Jack Doyle step up when called upon. By the end of the game, the Colts had just two healthy wide receivers and just two healthy tight ends due to injuries suffered during the game. But the Colts did have some guys step up at both positions, as Chester Rogers had a very impressive performance in catching four passes (on four targets) for 63 yards, finishing as the team’s leading receiver. And at tight end, Jack Doyle stepped in and caught four passes (on four targets) for 53 yards and a touchdown. Even Erik Swoope made two catches (the first two of his NFL career) for 42 yards. The Colts are very thin at the positions right now, but they had some guys step up on Sunday.
- Offensive line looks better. I know it might sound crazy after a game in which the Colts allowed three sacks, six quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss, but I actually thought the offensive line did a fine job on Sunday night. They’re not a great unit, but expecting them to be is unrealistic - and on Sunday I thought they did as good of a job as they could have been expected to. That’s especially true when it comes to run blocking, which I thought was good and was one of the main reasons why Frank Gore was finally able to reach 100 yards (he got 106). Gore deserves a lot of credit too, certainly, but the line helped. It may also sound crazy to say this, but I thought the right side of the line was the stronger side on Sunday (particularly in run blocking) and Joe Haeg and Denzelle Good held their own there. With the starting five the Colts put out there on Sunday there’s a lot to work with, and there’s some reason for cautious optimism about the line. It needs to get better, but Sunday’s game was a step in the right direction. Now it’s about putting several of those steps together, which we haven’t seen yet this season.
- Andrew Luck was solid. I don’t think Andrew Luck was as good as he was in the first five weeks of this season, but I also don’t think he was as bad as many people have made it out to seem. Quite simply, he was average. He gave the Colts solid play, but it wasn’t the spectacular play that he had been putting up so far this year. In the first five games, he looked like an MVP-caliber quarterback, and on Sunday he was just ok. He missed some throws - the interception was bad, the overthrow of Erik Swoope in the fourth quarter and the underthrow of T.Y. Hilton late in the second half come to mind - and made some plays too. He was definitely good enough to win, but like everyone else on the team Luck and the offense stalled late in the game. It should also be noted that Luck made plays with his legs, as he rushed for a touchdown and set a new career high with 53 rushing yards, while averaging 7.6 yards per rush. Luck wasn’t afraid to make plays on the ground on Sunday, and that helped.
- Specialists continue to kick butt. There’s not much left to say about how good Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee are. Vinatieri continued his insanely hot streak by hitting all three field goal attempts, though the Colts made it somewhat easy on him, as the longest attempt was only 41 yards. He ran his streak to 41 consecutive makes, however, which is just one away from tying Mike Vanderjagt for the longest such streak in NFL history. And Pat McAfee punted five times while averaging 45.4 yards per punt, including three pinned inside the 20 and a long of 61. Vinatieri leads the NFL in field goals made (16), in 50+ yard field goals (5), and is one of only five kickers still perfect this year. Pat McAfee, meanwhile, is second in the NFL in punting average and fourth in net average. The specialists continue to dominate, in other words.