While the Indianapolis Colts forced the Buffalo Bills into overtime in what was perhaps the worst weather I’ve ever seen for a football game, there were some key plays and key coaching decisions that had a impact on the outcome of the game. The bad playing conditions remove from the analysis much of what can be said about individual contributions so we’ll simply get out of the way that the effort Frank Gore put into this game is commendable. He had his most productive game of the season, had a career high in total carries, and kept the Colts in the game throughout.
Keys to the Colts Loss
A failed two point conversion.
After the game went mostly penalty free for three quarters, some late flags had an impact on the outcome of the game. The biggest penalty was on what was initially called a successful two point conversion attempt on a Jacoby Brissett pass to Jack Doyle.
For two point conversion attempts, the ball is lined up on the two yard line. NFL rules stipulate that offensive passing interference can only happen beyond one yard of the line of scrimmage. Aiken took a step toward the goal line off of the snap and turned to block the defensive back who was lined up to his inside. Doyle broke free and made the catch to put the Colts up 8-7. A very late flag was thrown to overturn the original call on the field.
Miraculously, Adam Vinatieri was able to boot a long extra point attempt through the uprights to tie the game at 7. It can be argued that if Aiken had simply run a route into the end zone the same outcome would have occurred on the pass to Doyle. Either way, failing on this attempt is what allowed overtime.
Making no attempt to get an extra couple of yards at the end of regulation.
The Buffalo Bills made a ridiculous decision to try to throw the ball with their third string quarterback deep in their own territory at the end of regulation. When Matthias Farley picked off a pass from Joe Webb, Indianapolis was finally on the receiving end of a last minute mistake instead of being the ones making the mistake.
Not so fast!
With no timeouts left and about 50 second left in regulation, the coaching staff chose to allow nearly 40 seconds of time to run off of the clock after Frank Gore picked up three yards on an inside run. No attempt was made to advance the ball further or get one final run to pick up a few yards and make it easier for Adam Vinatieri to hit a game winning field goal. Instead, Brissett took the snap and spiked the ball to back up the play by another yard with 7 seconds remaining.
Vinatieri wasn’t able to repeat his previous magic on a 43-yard field goal attempt in ridiculously difficult conditions.
Abandoning the ground game in overtime with 3 minutes to play and two timeouts.
When the Colts stopped the Buffalo Bills at the 41 yard line and Sean McDermott chose to punt the ball away, the Colts immediately put the ball in Frank Gore’s hands. Gore took his first two carries for runs of 5 and 10 yards for a first down. Both lines were tired at this point in the game in unfavorable field conditions and stopping the run was difficult all day long.
On the next set of downs, Jacoby Brissett lined up in shotgun formation for three straight plays. He overthrew Jack Doyle. He threw the ball behind T.Y. Hilton who had daylight in front of him for what could have been a huge play. Finally, he hit Chester Rogers on a dig that was short of a first down.
Three plays, two stopped the clock, two were wasted on incomplete passes, and Frank Gore was still breathing. Why? With the opportunity to control the clock and grind out yards, with two timeouts in your pocket and a ground game that just netted 15 yards of offense against a tired defense, why would you choose to throw the ball in less than favorable conditions with a quarterback who has shown an inability to consistently put any touch on his passes and who otherwise has made more mistakes in these situations than any single player on your team?
There is no defensible explanation for this decision. If you want to switch things up and get something going with a pass, that is fine. I get it. Both the pass to Doyle and Hilton were open plays and should have picked up chunk yardage. As a coaching staff, though, it is your responsibility to recognize which players put you in the best position to win. Anyone has watched the Colts this year should know that asking Brissett to throw his way to an overtime win in a blizzard is not the right decision.
With the loss, the Colts fall to 3-10. They move one step closer to a very high draft pick that could yield a very valuable piece on a team that is one season into a rebuild. They also move one step closer to the opportunity to bring in a fresh coaching staff who can hopefully do a better job of capitalizing on some of the young talent Chris Ballard has put together on the defensive side of the football.