The turnover, the view of only green turf ahead, an easy touchdown opportunity; a memory of the RCA Dome and the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoff bout against the Pittsburgh Steelers that no Colts fan wants to relive.
We all remember. It was a decade ago when the Colts arguably had their best team ever.
The Steelers were up 21-18 in the final minutes when Gary Brackett’s helmet jarred the ball loose from Jerome Bettis’ fingers, when Nick Harper picked it up and saw nothing but history being made before his eyes, when it was all lost.
Harper tried to make a cut in the middle of the field and his leg gave out on him. He was stabbed the night before by a steak knife that impeded him in scoring a potential game winning touchdown, which led to the Mike Vanderjagt missed field goal. The Colts season had unexpectedly ended.
We all tried to forget, but when Darius Butler had nothing but space after a Brock Osweiler interception his hamstring gave out, falling to the ground helplessly. The remembrance of 2006 and Harper gloomed over Indianapolis once again.
Of course the two situations aren’t identical. Harper’s mishap ended the Colts season, Butler’s came mid-way through the second quarter in week two, but it was still pivotal.
The Denver Broncos were leading 10-3 when Butler, who was supposed to be blitzing on the play, made a great read and intercepted Osweiler on a screen pass. Fifteen yards later and only a touchdown in sight, Butler went down in pain.
It would’ve been a game-changer, evening the score at 10, and would’ve given the Colts the momentum they so desperately were looking for. Any time your defense can score a touchdown against the best defensive team in the league certainly takes a heavy load off of Andrew Luck and the offense. Instead they had to settle for a field goal.
A defense shattered with injuries, a play that explains their young 2016 season better than words.
It’s as simple as this; the defense is hurting. Their secondary is depleted. Coming into the game Patrick Robinson, Trent Cole, T.J. Green, Henry Anderson, and Vontae Davis were all inactive. Then Antonio Cromartie, Rashaan Melvin, and Butler all were injured in yesterday’s game.
The injuries keep coming, and the Colts keep struggling.
Now in no way do I want you to think I’m making excuses. In my column last week I clearly stated that I don’t do excuses. All these players being hurt doesn’t mean their linebackers like Sio Moore, who is becoming a liability on defense, are suddenly incapable of tackling. It doesn’t mean that Erik Walden and Robert Mathis can no longer get to the passer, but it doesn’t help.
Because of the scarceness at corner, defensive Ted Monachino can’t run the defense he wants to run. He can’t send extra guys into the box and call up as many blitzes as he likes, knowing his secondary needs help in the back end. He can’t trust his corners to go one-on-one against most wide receivers in this league, which we clearly found out yesterday. The man needs some kind of help.
But yesterday, the problem wasn’t with the defense. Yes, they missed tackles, a lot of big tackles. Yes, they still don’t look like they can stop the top-tier offenses of this league, but this wasn’t their fault.
This was Luck’s fault.
On a day when your defense only gives up 19 points (only one touchdown), one has to like their chances with Luck under center. Instead Luck was 21/40 for 197 yards and one touchdown, with a quarterback rating (QBR) of only 61.8. He also threw a pick six to Aqib Talib, a turning point early in the fourth quarter. That’s just not going to get the job done, not even close.
It started early. In the first couple of drives Luck was missing everything long and high, leaving his receivers in dangerous situations, a situation that knocked receiver Donte Moncrief out of the game. You could tell his internal clock was going faster than usual.
Can you blame him? Ever since coming into the league he has taken the most quarterback hits out of anyone with 375, Ryan Tannehill coming in second at 364. With an offensive line that everyone knows struggles, and going up against that Broncos defense, my internal clock would be racing too.
The offensive line didn’t play error free yesterday, giving up five sacks for 27 yards, but some of those sacks came late when the game was out of reach. No the offensive line didn’t play great, but they played good enough to get the job done. There were countless times Luck had time to stand in the pocket, to survey the field, to find nobody open.
Their receivers couldn’t get open, and when they did Luck didn’t look sharp. How can you blame the offensive line?
Many began to harp on tackle Joe Reitz. It was 26-20 and the Colts had the ball with minutes remaining, trying to put together another game winning drive. Many were glued to their TV’s waiting for something great to happen. They sure didn’t have to wait long. Von Miller forced a strip sack on the first play beating Reitz easily from the right side, which was scooped by Shane Ray and scored for the second defensive touchdown of the day. The opportunity had been lost.
Immediately tweets were sent dogging Reitz and the offensive line. Do you people understand that is the best athlete in the game getting it done? What could Reitz possibly have done? Maybe next time the Colts won’t decide to play Miller one-on-one, something they had been doing all game (even with a tight end). Coaching?
In the end it leads the Colts to a familiar feeling, starting the season 0-2 for the third straight season.
Panic in Indianapolis? You bet.
Should there be? Hell no.
I wrote a similar story last year when most Indiana Hoosier basketball fans panicked after a slow start. “Fire Crean!” some hollered. “Fire Pagano!” some are saying today.
What did Aaron Rodgers remind his fans a couple of years ago? “Relaaaaaax.”
There is a reason the season is 16 games. If you have given up hope in this team, shame on you. There is plenty of time to evolve, to get better, however it does need to happen quickly with Houston (2-0) and the Titans (1-1) both ahead of the Colts in the AFC South.
Remember what happened two years ago when the Colts started 0-2? A five game winning streak. Last year? A three game winning streak. This team has bounced back before, they can do it again.
In the next three weeks they play San Diego at home, Jaguars in London, and the Bears at home. No cakewalk, but these are three winnable games. Then they go to Houston for a primetime game on Sunday night. Next, at Tennessee. They are more than capable to go on another five game winning streak again.
Am I crazy? Maybe.
It all starts with this week. This week might be one of the biggest the Colts have had in awhile. 0-3? Forget about it. Then this team is in big trouble, some people losing jobs trouble, and I am sitting here looking foolish saying they are going to win five in a row. 1-2? Completely different story. Different mindset. Different confidence. Hopefully different players (getting some healthy bodies back).
Frustrated? I understand I am too. But frustration isn’t equivalent to giving up. Trust the process, the Colts will be just fine.