Sluggish Colts deal Chiefs 1st loss
If any team can avoid the grave fate that usually befalls Super Bowl losers the following season, Indianapolis should be it.
This franchise has a history of sustained success. Almost all starters are back from a squad that flirted with a perfect regular-season record last year. Plus, there is little reason to believe a Peyton Manning-led team would fail to reach the postseason like eight of the previous 11 clubs that had just fallen short of a Lombardi Trophy
These Colts will still probably make the playoffs. But unless some significant improvements are made, that’s as far as they’re getting before going home.
This belief was reinforced during Sunday’s 19-9 victory over Kansas City. With all due respect to the prior achievements of what was the NFL’s last unbeaten team, the 2009 Colts wouldn’t have been forced to settle for field goals after getting inside the opposition’s 6-yard line on their first two series. That squad would have scored touchdowns en route to the customary blowout when Indianapolis is truly clicking. An improved but still flawed Chiefs squad (3-1) would not have had a chance to win deep into the game.
“When this team is playing here in Indianapolis, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said afterward. “I thought our guys hung in there.”
Indianapolis is largely to blame for letting the Chiefs stick around. The Colts hurt themselves far more than Kansas City did until finally taking control in the fourth quarter.
Now, the Chiefs’ secondary did play well and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel had a solid game plan against his long-time nemesis. Crennel often dropped eight players into coverage to try and force Manning to call running plays or dink-and-dunk downfield.
Manning still had plenty of chances to hit open targets, but he and his receivers often weren’t on the same page. There were poor throws, dropped passes and an interception. The offense was bailed out by backup running back Mike Hart, who contributed 40 second-half rushing yards and the game-clinching touchdown, and kicker Adam Vinatieri (4-for-4 on field goals).
Defensively, a first-half shutout was ruined when Indianapolis cornerback Kelvin Hayden set up a Chiefs field goal with a penalized out-of-bounds hit on wide receiver Chris Chambers. An offside foul on Colts defensive tackle Dan Muir made it easier for Ryan Succup to later connect on a 43-yard attempt. And the Chiefs would have gotten on the scoreboard again if wide receiver Dwayne Bowe didn’t drop a 30-yard pass from Matt Cassel in the end zone.
The defense’s positive plays did outweigh the negative, especially with Cassel having yet another mediocre outing. But who knows if such success will continue for a unit that couldn’t get its act together in previous losses to division rivals Houston and Jacksonville?
“We’re still trying to figure out what our identity is,” Manning said following his 26-for-44, 244-yard effort. “We’ve still been somewhat inconsistent playing really good one game and then having a drop-off. We’re still looking for all three phases of our team to play well at the same time. We’ve kind of alternated. As a result, we’ve alternated winning and losing. Hopefully we can put it together from here and play really good team football.”
The only time that has happened this season was during a 38-14 rout of the New York Giants in Week Two. Manning admits these Colts (3-2) aren’t operating in the same finely-tuned fashion we have come to expect from the winningest team — at least record-wise — of the past decade.
Indianapolis, though, is still in the thick of a wide-open AFC race. The 2008 Colts also were in far worse shape with a 3-4 record before closing with nine consecutive regular-season victories.
“It’s a situation we’ve been in before but just not normally,” Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said.
Besides sloppy execution, injuries have played a role in the Colts’ sluggishness. Running back Joseph Addai was the latest casualty. Addai left in the third quarter after having his right shoulder driven into the Lucas Oil Stadium turf by Chiefs defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey.
Addai said he would undergo more medical testing Monday to determine the extent of his injury. Addai, though, didn’t use bumps and bruises as excuses for his team’s patchy start.
“It’s still early,” he said. “We have a lot to improve on. We’ve shown some good things and made some mistakes. That’s a good thing: You can correct what happened and continue from there.”
That might be the best news five games into a season in which the Colts have looked far too average for the high standard they have set.
“We are still feeling our way out, seeing who we are and what things we really do well,” Manning said. “We’re looking for just a little more consistency. ‘I know we’ll do this really well every single game’ … We’re still trying to figure that out on both sides of the ball. It’s just the way it’s working out right now.”