NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTHR) - There is a brutal inevitability, a painful predictability, about every Indianapolis Colts’ game now. The Colts start reasonably well. The Colts give signs they have a competitive, even a pretty decent, football team. And then the second half starts, and everything goes straight into the toilet.
Honest, I could write these game columns the morning of the game, then watch the game, maybe change a name or two and be done for the evening – maybe even make last call.
This time, they lost to the Tennessee Titans 36-22, but more importantly, more dispiriting, they were outscored 27-3 after taking an early-third-quarter 19-9 lead on John Simon’s impressive pick-six. By now, the numbers are downright mind-numbing. The Colts have been outscored by 80 points in the second half through six games, which has to be some kind of NFL record (I’ll check and get back to you). In six fourth quarters, they’ve been outscored 85-22, which also has to be some kind of ignominious record (and again, I’ll get back to you).
Sometimes, they simply gag. Sometimes, they simply fall into tiny little pieces, slowly and inexorably and inevitably. But always – ALWAYS – they come apart at the seams when the game is still on the line. This one hurt and it hurt a lot because this is a division game, a division game against a team they had beaten 11 straight times, so it essentially counts twice in the standings. Worse yet, they gave up 36 points to a quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who was dealing with an injured hamstring and moved slightly more than Peyton Manning’s statue. The Colts knew he couldn’t do what he normally does, which is scramble and run designed plays and make defenses crazy, and still, they allowed 36 points, 21 of them in that killer fourth quarter.
“Is there anything you can put your finger on?’’ outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard was asked.
“We’ve got to figure out how to win games,’’ he said sternly.
“Has it become a mental block?’’ Sheard was asked.
“We’ve got to figure out how to win games,’’ he said, looking at the media with all the enthusiasm of a man dealing with a kidney stone.
Two more questions. Two more “We’ve got to figure out how to win games,’’ and then we all walked off, understanding that A) there are no answers and B) if we asked one more question, Sheard was going to sack all of us.
So we tried Rashaan Melvin, the good-hearted corner who has come from nowhere to make a name for himself this year, and here was his response.
“We’ve just got to keep chopping wood,’’ he said brusquely.
The crazy thing is, this game went south because Jack Doyle and Adam Vinatieri, the two guys you ordinarily trust most, came up short. Doyle dropped two passes and lost a fumble. Vinatieri, who, in fairness, did kick a 52-yard field goal, doinked an extra point off the upright, which changed the complexion of the game. Even Malik Hooker, who has had such a tremendous rookie year, was left in quicksand on the Mariota bomb that gave the Titans a 29-22 lead in the fourth quarter.
"I just can't really put my finger on what is going wrong," Doyle said. "Obviously I wish I would have made the play on third down. The fumble killed us. A lot of this is on me and I have to be better."
The offense, so good in this Tennessee game that it didn’t have to punt the entire first half, went completely south in the second half, doing nothing in the running game (maybe give the ball to Marlon Mack more than two times?) and the passing game did less than nothing. For Jacoby Brissett, this has become a disturbing pattern; he looks like a world-beater in the first half, then completes just 9-of-20 passes for 100 yards in the second half.
After the game, Brissett sounded a lot like Andrew Luck.
“It’s on me,’’ he said. “I’ve got to be better.’’
The Colts still had every chance to tie the game after the Mariota touchdown bomb, driving deep into Tennessee territory. But then, with a fourth and one at the Tennessee 13, the Colts called a play they were sure would work given the defense the Titans were playing: A fake handoff to Frank Gore, then Brissett bootlegging to his right and reaching haplessly for the first-down marker. But he couldn’t out-run Tennessee’s Wesley Woodyard and that, friends, was that.
Might it have been a different result if Robert Turbin, the Colts’ short yardage specialist, hadn’t been hurt on the previous play? We’ll never know.
The Colts challenged the spot – at that point, why not? – but the ruling was upheld, and the Colts were in trouble.
Now, a good team finds a way to force a three-and-out, understanding that Tennessee is going to keep the ball on the ground in the hope of bleeding the clock. But even then, the Colts were helpless to stop the Titans, eventually giving up a long touchdown run to Derrick Henry at the end of a night when they actually had success stopping the run.
When the stakes are highest, the Colts are at their worst. This is a recording. The denizens of Twitter will say it’s all Chuck Pagano’s fault, that his team doesn’t make second-half adjustments or that they’re not in proper physical condition, but it’s much simpler than that: One, they’re not very good, having earned their only two victories over winless teams, both wins at home, both wins by the skin of their teeth. Two, well, they’re not going to like this, but how do you avoid the obvious?
They’re mental J-ello.
And yes, it would be nice if their best players played like their best players. Doyle, we mentioned. Vinatieri, we mentioned. Brissett, we mentioned. Now tell me where T.Y. Hilton was hiding all game. He finished with one reception on a measly four targets. Donte Moncrief had his best statistical game of the season, but dropped a surefire touchdown pass early in the game. And while we’re on the subject, how about giving Mack the football once every blue moon? He nearly broke a touchdown run early, then was put in the Witness Protection Program.
I asked Pagano after the game about Mack’s lack of touches, and the head coach, looking as beaten down as we’ve ever seen him, said softly, "Yeah, we've got to figure out ways to probably get him the ball more."
Well, um, yeah, that would be a great idea.
So, to quote Sheard, they need to find a way to win games. To quote Melvin, they need to keep chopping wood. Pagano, well, he just stated the obvious and then said, almost apologetically, that we’ve heard this same song several times already this season and it’s time to stop talking about it and start doing it.
If anybody had an answer, I’m quite sure they’d share it with the rest of the class. But it’s game after game after game, loss after loss after loss.
Just for kicks, how about the Colts find a novel way to lose? Because this is getting old. And this football season, it’s circling the drain, just like every second half this team has played this year.