The Indianapolis Colts fell behind early and never recovered in a 40-11 road loss to Arizona Sunday.
Never mind the Colts problem with slow starts. Sunday at Arizona, the Colts never got started against the Cardinals in a 40-11 loss to the coach who led the Colts most of last season. Bruce Arians did not roll out the welcome mat. Instead, his Cardinals rolled to their fourth straight win, third straight against an AFC South opponent.
"I thought that was probably our best effort as a football team," said Arians. "We protected the ball and we took it away. I think we're finally where we need to be to be a team that, you're not going to fear us, but you're going to respect us."
The Cardinals led 27-3 at halftime and the Colts did not find the end zone until the fourth quarter.
"It stinks," said Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who suffered through one of his worst games in the NFL. "It's frustrating. But we realize the onus is on us to get it fixed. It's on the players to do our job. I have to do my job much better if we are going to have a chance to win consistently. We know that. We're going to work our butts off."
Luck completed 20-of-39 passes for 163 yards. His only touchdown pass went to Coby Fleener. Luck's 28-yard fourth quarter scramble set up Fleener's TD catch and was the Colts longest play from scrimmage. Luck also gave the Cardinals a touchdown when Karlos Dansby intercepted a pass in the second quarter and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer shredded the Colts defense, completing 26-of-37 passes for 314 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald. At 30 years old, Fitzgerald became the youngest player to reach 11,000 yards receiving for his career.
"It's hard to say that we saw this coming," said Palmer. "But we've been working toward this. This has been a goal of ours, to be firing on third down, and we want to be better in the red zone than we were today."
The Colts did sack Palmer three times. Ricky Jean Francois collected a pair of sacks. Robert Mathis stripped the ball from Palmer on a second quarter sack. The Cardinals recovered the fumble. The play gave Mathis a league record 40 career sacks with a forced fumble. Mathis also tied Dwight Freeney for the franchise record for games with at least one sack (81).
The Colts (7-4) no longer resemble the team that beat the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos earlier this season – three of the best teams in the NFL.
"Same team, same resolve," said Fleener, who caught four passes for 55 yards. "I think this week at practice will really challenge that and make sure guys are here for the right reasons."
Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians shared a few minutes together during pregame warm ups. Arians won NFL Coach of the Year honors last season for leading the Colts to a 9-3 record as interim head coach while Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia.
"The emotions were way gone before kickoff," said Arians. "I saw a lot of friends and a lot of really dear guys that mean a lot to me."
"It's a tough pill to swallow for anybody when you get beat like this," said Pagano. "Credit to Bruce, his staff and team. They played extremely well, and they have a good football team. We have to worry about us and get things fixed on our end."
The Colts still hold a two-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South. The Titans visit Lucas Oil Stadium next Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
The Cardinals moved 80 yards in 10 plays in the opening drive of Sunday's game to take a 7-0 lead over Indianapolis. Carson Palmer capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald for the first score.
The Colts were forced to punt after three plays on their first possession. Arizona then drove to the Colts' ten-yard line, but Sergio Brown got a hand on a Jay Feely field goal attempt, keeping the deficit at seven.
Indianapolis got on the board late in the first quarter, driving to the Cardinals' nine before Adam Vinatieri was called on to kick a 27-yard field goal.
Fitzgerald caught his second touchdown pass from Palmer early in the second quarter, hauling in a 26-yard pass to make it 14-3.
Feely pushed the lead to 17-3 with 8:18 left in the half with a 48-yard field goal. Two plays later, Andrew Luck was intercepted by Karlos Dansby, who returned the pick 22 yards for an Arizona touchdown and a 24-3 Cardinals lead.
Feely kicked a 50-yard field goal as the first half expired to give Arizona a 27-3 lead at halftime.
The onslaught continued in the third quarter. After the Colts turned the ball over on downs to open the second half, Arizona moved 64 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a five-yard touchdown run from Rashard Mendenhall to make the score 34-3 Cardinals.
The Colts finally found the end zone with 10:26 remaining in the game. Luck threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener, then hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for the two-point conversion to cut the Cardinals' lead to 34-11.
Feely's third field goal of the game with 7:20 remaining gave Arizona a 37-11 lead. He added another to finish the scoring.
First-round draft pick Bjoern Werner is getting his first career start in place of Erik Walden, who was suspended for a head-butting incident in the Colts' last game against Tennessee.
Colts safety LaRon Landry is in the lineup as he recovers from a toe injury, but two Indianapolis starters are inactive: cornerback Greg Toler (groin) and fullback Stanley Havili (concussion). Cassius Vaughn replaces Toler and Jack Doyle started for Havili.