KRAVITZ: Colts shouldn't have won and they should have won: Read this column and that may make sense

Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck passes during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Bob Kravitz


These next few sentences may not make a whole lot of sense, but bear with me:

The Indianapolis Colts had no right to think they should have won Sunday's game, a 20-16 loss to the Eagles, not when you looked at the statistics and saw them being out-gained by a huge margin, not when you saw the Eagles possessed the ball more than 40 minutes to the Colts' paltry 19:40.

And yet, the Colts should have won this football game, should have found a way to punch the ball into the end zone more than once in five red-zone tries, should have walked out of Philly with an eye-opening upset victory with a last-minute touchdown.

Does that compute?

It does to me.

In the end, the victory was right there, like that word that's on the tip of your tongue but you just can't spit out. For the better part of 60 minutes, they had been out-played, especially the Colts' Checkdown Charlie offense, which managed just 68 yards rushing and 164 yards on 41 pass attempts. The offense, which looked like a mind-numbing succession of dinks and dunks – even, incredibly, on the Colts' final drive of the game, when they needed to go 89 yards in less than a minute but chose to throw short – did little to test the Eagles' secondary. I'm not entirely sure when Andrew Luck became Alex Smith, not sure if this is the design or the persistent rain or the fact he's coming back after having missed an entire season, but it was a very difficult watch. Remember, even after the season opener when we were all hailing Luck's triumphant return, he only averaged a bit more than six yards per pass attempt.

And when Luck did try to make plays, throwing into the end zone, he was getting no help from his receivers, specifically Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers.

It was shocking, then, that when the Colts needed to throw a 60-plus-yards Hail Mary at game's end, head coach Frank Reich turned to Jacoby Brissett to make the heave.

Well, it was shocking to us.

Not so shocking to Luck.

"It took me a second to figure out what was going on, but I support the decision 100 percent,'' Luck said. "Jacoby made a heck of a throw, bought some time and got the ball there…Jacoby has a stronger arm than I do. That's sort of what I see in practice and obviously Coach Reich thinks that as well. I'll keep working on getting my arm where it can hit an 80-yard throw. I think there were no problems with that decision.''

Reich said he gave Brissett the heads-up when the Eagles punted late in the game, telling him to be ready in case the Colts needed a long-range miracle

If there's something wrong with Luck's surgically-repaired right shoulder, neither Luck nor Reich conceded that possibility. I only know what I saw, and I know what I've seen from pre-surgery Luck, and what I saw Sunday was a quarterback who was not throwing with the same zip, the same raw velocity, we used to see. Now again, that may have been the rain. That may have been the scheme. That may be my lying eyes. And honestly, if T.Y. Hilton could have hauled in that late fourth-quarter fade late in the fourth quarter – "We make that play with our eyes closed,'' Hilton said -- we'd be writing about what a late-game magician Luck is and not wondering about his arm.

But we are where we are.

Reich insisted later that the Brissett decision had nothing to do with Luck's arm strength or a fear of him overexerting his shoulder.

"He (Brissett) can throw it a mile,'' he said. "…We knew Jacoby had the arm to get it into the end zone. We would have kept Andrew in if we would have got it up another 10 of 15 yards, but we talked about scenarios like that…It had nothing to do with that (a fear of hurting his shoulder). It was everything about getting the ball into the end zone.''

This Colts defense, well, they deserved a whole lot better. Granted, they were getting Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in his first game since suffering an injury in Week 14. Granted, the Eagles were playing without offensive weapons Alshon Jeffery (receiver), Jay Ajayi (running back) and Darren Sproles (Magical Gnome and Colts' killer). Still…they were special, and they were special for the second week in a row, which comes as quite a shock to those of us who had very low expectations for this young and untested group. They sacked Wentz five times. They forced two turnovers deep in Philly territory, setting the ball up on a tee for the Indy offense. It was Margus Hunt and it was Darius Leonard. It was Kemoko Turay and it was Jabaal Sheard. They deserved a happy flight home.

It was one drive – one loooong drive – that did them in. How long? Let's just say that when the Eagles took possession early in the fourth quarter while trailing 16-13, I still had hair. Seventeen plays, 75 yards, a drive that lasted 11:!8 and included four massively deflating defensive penalties. Shoot, Andrew Luck could have perused two tomes from his Book Club collection in the time it took for the Eagles to move downfield and score the go-ahead touchdown.

The Colts had the Eagles in second-and-30…and there was a penalty.

The Colts had them in fourth-and-5 and forced an incompletion…and there was a penalty.

You get the idea. The Eagles got more second chances than Josh Gordon.

"It took forever,'' Hunt said of the Bataan Death March of a drive. . "…I've seen one but never been a part of it. There was a lot of emotion and you're trying to get to the quarterback and then you see the ball being thrown down the field…then all of a sudden, there's a flag and you don't know what it's for.''

Look familiar? Same thing happened against Cincinnati in Week One. Defensive penalties, one after another, did them in.

Still, the Colts had their opportunities. Trailing by four, they marched inside the Philly 5-yard line, then stalled out and ultimately saw the drive die when Luck was sacked. Think they'll be spending Monday working on red-zone issues? Yes…yes they will.

Even after all that, even at the end of a game when Adam Vinatieri tied the all-time mark for made field goals, the Colts had one more shot. But they were penalized on the Philadelphia punt – George Odum was actually flagged for two infractions on the same play, which is difficult to do -- and took possession with 39 seconds left and 89 yards to go. And no timeouts. At that point, you're thinking Luck will just wing it, hope for a miracle or a pass interference call…but no.





I had to ask Reich about that. Just had to.

"Early on in the first two or three calls, we called stuff down the field and tried to get it down the field,'' he said. "Their secondary was so deep. When the second-level coverage is that deep, you can throw it down there for a possible PI, but it's probably more likely that you're just asking for an interception. I understand the question. It's a valid question. We called a couple; it just wasn't there. I think it would have been reckless on Andrew's part to force it down there. We still gave ourselves a little bit of a chance given the situation.''

Right. A Hail Mary from their own 46.

Look, 89 yards in 39 seconds is next-to-impossible, but the Colts never saw fit to challenge Philly's defense, or at least put it in the hands of the officials, who seemed to enjoy their out-sized role in the game by calling 21 penalties against the two teams. Maybe it's Luck's arm. Maybe it's Reich's offense. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

They had no right to win this game and yet, they should have won this game. If you didn't see the game, that will sound patently absurd, but if you gutted your way through the entirety of it, you know how true that really is.