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Critical Penalties, Pagano’s Poor Decision Keep Colts From Fourth Win of Season

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On back-to-back drives the Colts fall victim to Pagano’s decision-making, and acquire their only 2 penalties of the game. Both proved paramount to keeping them from their fourth win of the season

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts were in it until the end once again in their Week 16 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. They were outscored again in the second half (10-9) though those tallies could have been very different had two specific drives yielded the results they should have.

Naturally, the cause and effect of situations like these are never set in stone as subsequent actions could have altered the outcome as well, but I think it’s pretty clear that had everything stayed the same the Colts would have pulled out their fourth win of the season.

The chain of events started midway through the third quarter when the Colts forced a three-and-out on the Ravens second drive of the second half. After an 8-yard punt return by Chester Rogers, the Colts were starting their possession on their own 33-yard line.

The Colts came out clicking too. Frank Gore began the drive with an 11-yard run, then two plays later Marlon Mack got the Colts in position to put points on the board via a screen pass that moved the Colts 29 yards, all the way down to the Baltimore 24-yard line.

In an instant it looked as if the Colts were primed to take the lead as they were harnessing the momentum at the right time. Just as quickly, though, the Colts were getting backed up as Gore was dropped for a 2-yard loss, but appeared to have been saved as Kamar Aiken picked up 11 yards on a pass from Brissett putting the Colts in a third-and-1 situation.

But, then Chuck Pagano happened.

Terrell Suggs was flagged for an offsides penalty which gave Pagano a choice which has proved to never be a good position to be in. His choice: either decline the penalty, take the yardage and line up on third down with just 1 yard to go, or, accept the penalty, replay second down but have 7 yards to earn for that first down which have been so elusive for the Colts all season.

Naturally, Pagano chose to make everything harder on everyone involved.

As it played out, Gore ran for 4 yards putting the Colts in a third-and-3 situation and as we all know stupidity is contagious. What possessed Rob Chudzinski to give Brissett the keys to the read-option in which he pulled the ball out of Gore’s belly, deciding to try to beat Matt Judon to the edge — i’ll never know.

Instead of the Colts continuing their drive which had now stalled in the red zone and attempt to put the ball in the end zone, they were forced to call on Adam Vinatieri for a field goal. Quite possibly the difference in a 17-16 lead, and where the chips fell with the Colts trailing 13-16.

The Ravens following drive would also hold major significance to how the game played out as well.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Ravens began to make their way down the field and had just gotten to the Colts side of midfield. After Margus Hunt punched his way into the Ravens’ backfield dropping Alex Collins for a 5-yard loss, Joe Flacco went across the middle of the field to Breshad Perriman for a 6-yard gain.

As the Colts found themselves with the upper hand, preparing to stop the Ravens on a third-and-9 situation — and they did. Flacco targeted Michael Campanaro near the yardage to go, but he was forced to come back to the ball to make the catch and was at least a yard short of the sticks. The Colts had gotten another big third down stop — except they didn’t.

As Flacco was rolling to his left, Colts nickel corner Nate Hairston was flagged for a holding call giving the Ravens a first down extending the drive. That was the Colts first penalty of the game.

The new set of downs didn’t appear to force the Colts to hang their heads though. Flacco had his ball tipped at the line of scrimmage by Jabaal Sheard on first down, and then Quincy Wilson stopped Maxx Williams for a short gain, again, putting the Colts in an advantageous position with the Ravens sitting at third-and-8 with Flacco out of rhythm.

On third down, Flacco was forced to evade the Colts rush pretty quickly, but targeted Campanaro again along the boundary with Hairston in coverage. Hairston, again, made a critical mistake of playing the receiver instead of the ball on the comeback route. As Campanaro attempted to adjust to the ball Hairston did not. Instead he went through Campanaro, taking him out of bounds and drawing a pass interference penalty.

This one was the killer, though, as it took the Ravens all the way down to the Colts 23-yard line and destroyed any semblance of momentum the Colts may have been holding. The possession finished with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Williams ballooning the Ravens lead to 23-13 with just 8:40 left in the game.

With all that we’ve discussed here, the Colts should have been — at worst — in a situation where they trailed 17-19 with plenty of time for the Colts to put together another scoring drive. They did indeed add another field goal on a 13-play drive which would, theoretically, have put the Colts up 20-19.

Now, anything after that is pure conjecture as to how the game would have played out, and in fact what we’re doing up until that point is as well. But, these two drives could very likely have altered the end result of the game. These were the Colts only 2 penalties of the game, and the only time in which Pagano was forced to make an in-game decision and these are the ramifications.

It’s too bad that the Colts couldn’t have just these two drives back, but these weren’t the only bad breaks of the game for the Colts. The Colts forced a Collins fumble that was immediately scooped up by the only Raven in the area surrounded by Colts, Campanaro muffed a punt that the Colts couldn’t recover, Sheard batted a second pass up in the air and had an offensive lineman not stumbled into the path of the ball it could have been an interception deep in Ravens’ territory, and even the last offensive play of the game where T.Y. Hilton was held without a flag being thrown.

The Colts played well enough to win that game and put together a respectable effort on the road in another game featuring crappy conditions. While the result better serves the long-term of the Colts, this group deserved a win with all that they’ve had to deal with this season.