Colts get first win of the season with 31-28 victory over Browns
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano cherishes every win he gets.
No. 50 was a little closer than he had hoped.
Pagano spent the first half of Sunday’s game comfortably patrolling the sidelines as the Colts seized control and the second half trying to figure out why his team struggled to close out a 31-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
“We’re excited to get a win but we’ve got to learn how to finish,” he said. “We let one slip away two weeks ago and we almost did the same thing.”
Actually, it was only one week ago when the Colts (1-2) blew a 10-point lead in the final eight minutes against Arizona.
This time, the Colts nearly blew a 17-point lead in the last seven minutes. If they had, it would have looked even worse.
Indy (1-2) led 28-7 with 2:41 left in the first half, then went stone cold on offense. Jacoby Brissett, who ran for two scores and threw for another before setting up Frank Gore’s 4-yard touchdown run, only managed 75 total yards, four first downs and three points in the second half.
The defense wasn’t much better.
After holding the Browns (0-3) in check for most of the game and ending two scoring chances with interceptions, Indy gave up two touchdowns in less than five minutes and barely held off the comeback.
That’s not good enough for the Colts or Pagano.
“In order to win the game, you’ve got to put all four quarters together,” rookie safety Malik Hooker said after picking off a pass on the final play to seal it. “I feel like we put 3 1/2 together.”
But it’s certainly better than the alternative — starting 0-3 for the first time since 2011.
Or dealing with a 15-game road losing streak like Cleveland.
“We have these performances in the fourth quarter. We’ve got to have those in the first and second quarters,” Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “We’ve got to win the first quarter. We’ve got to win the second quarter.”
Things we learned from the Colts’ first win:
GETTING LUCK-Y: There has been speculation this could be the week franchise quarterback Andrew Luck returns to practice. Luck hasn’t been seen throwing to his teammates since undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder in January.
If he is about to return, Pagano isn’t dropping any hints — though he hasn’t yet ruled him out like he did each of the last two Mondays.
“It’s too early right now to tell,” Pagano said. “He’s making great progress. It’s the same report. I wish I had more to give you. I don’t anticipate it, but who knows?”
DIGGING A HOLE: It’s three weeks into the season and the Browns aren’t just winless, they haven’t held a lead.
The reason: Slow starts.
It happened again when the Browns gave up four touchdowns in the first half and spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. They cut the deficit to 31-21 on Kenny Britt’s 11-yard TD catch and Kizer’s 1-yard TD run with 2:04 to play. They even got the ball back with 23 seconds on their 9-yard line — but it was too little too late.
“We’re tired of being short,” coach Hue Jackson said.
GETTING COMFORTABLE: As long as Luck remains out, Brissett will remain the starter.
And he’s improving with each week.
After throwing the interception that set up Arizona’s field goal in overtime last week, Brissett rebounded with his best game yet. He scored on runs of 5 and 7 yards, threw a 61-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton and got his second career win. It was about more than highlights or numbers, though.
The timing with his receivers was better, the throws were deeper and Brissett looked more comfortable.
“I think we did a good job of capitalizing on what they gave us,” Brissett said.
RUNNING FROM BEHIND: Running back Isaiah Crowell has been asking for more carries. In the first half, it looked like Crowell would be the workhorse.
But once the Browns fell into such a big deficit, they resorted to throwing. Crowell finished with 12 carries for 44 yards, while Kizer had seven carries for 44 yards. Meanwhile, Kizer was 22 of 47 with 242 yards and two touchdowns.