What we saw in Lions 39, Colts 35

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye during the Indianapolis Colts’ season-opening 39-35 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. They were handed their third consecutive opening loss – they’re 1-4 in Luck’s career – when Matt Prater knocked down a 43-yard field goal with 4 seconds to play.

Started slow, finished too fast:

Consider the irony. At some level, we can blame the opening loss on the Colts’ offense starting slowly – again – and finishing too fast. How’s that? Read on.

With Luck under center for the first time in nine months, the offense sputtered out of the gate. Its first three drives consisted of 15 plays and generated 31 yards. Punt. Punt. Punt.

“Tired of talking about slow starts,’’ Luck said, essentially spitting the words out. “Tired of being a part of slow starts. It’s hard to win in the NFL, it really is. But when you go down 21-3 to a team, it’s that much harder.’’

The Lions had no such problem. Matthew Stafford, aided by a nice run-pass blend, staked the Lions to a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

Then, Luck found the ‘On’ switch. Or, in his words, the offense found some rhythm. Over the final 35 minutes, the offense cranked out 35 points: a pair of Adam Vinatieri field goals and Luck touchdown passes to Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen, and two to Cathedral grad Jack Doyle.

The final one to Doyle was a 6-yarder and gave the Colts their first lead of the game at 35-34. It was a precise 8-play, 75-yard drive that drained 3 minutes, 27 seconds off the clock.

It needed to be longer. Thirty-seven seconds remained. After a Pat McAfee touchback – maybe a pooch kick would have been a better idea; it might have taken 6 or 7 seconds off the clock – the Lions set up shop at their own 25. They needed only five plays and 33 seconds to chew up 50 yards and get in position for Prater’s game-winner.

“You always want to be trusted to close the game,’’ linebacker Robert Mathis said. “We weren’t able to do that and an L is the price you pay for it.’’

Stafford’s 19-yard dump-off pass to Theo Riddick. A 9-yarder to Eric Ebron. A 22-yarder to Marvin Jones Jr.

Then Prater’s dagger.

“You’ve got to finish. It’s 60 minutes,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “We can go back and say, ‘You know what? It would’ve been nice to bleed a lot more time off the clock.’ Looking back on it, could we have burned more time off the clock? Yeah.’’

Of course they could have.

But the Colts led 35-34. Thirty-seven seconds remained. The Lions took over at their own 25. All the defense had to do was make a play, or at least forced Detroit to work a little harder.

Instead of Luck duplicating the beat-the-clock win over Detroit during his rookie season – a 35-33 win on a 14-yard TD pass to Donnie Avery as time expired – the Lions turned the tables.

Depleted, disgusted defense:

Speaking of that defense, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson wasn’t impressed. At all.

“We played like (expletive),’’ he said. “We didn’t play good enough. It started with me. Anytime you give up that many points in this league, you’re blown out. And we can’t put our offense – we can’t put this team – in that position. To start the season off, I’m pissed. Today we were horse(expletive). I hate to use that language, but I’m pissed off right now. . . ”

The Lions piled up 448 total yards. Stafford passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Riddick and fellow running back Ameer Abdullah combined for 228 total yards on 19 touches. They did serious damage in the open field, juking defenders and pulling out of tackles.

“Defense 101,’’ Mathis said. “Just make those tackles. When you do things like (miss tackles), you breathe life into offenses.’’

For the record, coordinator Ted Monachino nearly found himself grabbing guys out of the stands to play defense. He was without Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Henry Anderson and Clayton Geathers. During a six-play stretch in the second quarter, injuries sidelined rookie safety T.J. Green, linebacker Sio Moore and cornerback Patrick Robinson.

“I don’t care who’s out there,’’ Jackson said, “there’s no excuse for us to play like that.’’

 Luck brought ‘A’ game:

Did we mention Luck was under center from the first time in nine months? You couldn’t tell it from his performance: 31-of-47, 385 yards, four TDs, a 119.5 passer rating. It was Luck’s seventh game with at least four TDs.

“I think our quarterback was exceptional,’’ Pagano said.

Luck was afforded more than adequate protection – “Those guys blocked their butts off,’’ he said of his line – and was selective in his scrambling with 21 yards on three carries.

More to the point, he appeared comfortable in the pocket and in making all the throws. Luck was able to spread things around. T.Y. Hilton and Moncrief shared the team lead with six catches. Dorsett, Allen and running back Frank Gore had four each and Doyle three. All told, eight players had at least two catches.

Medical matters:

A Colts defense that entered the game missing four front-line players was further depleted.

Green didn’t return after spraining his right knee and neither did Robinson, who was diagnosed with a concussion. Moore returned briefly after being shaken up in the second quarter.

In the fourth quarter, safety Winston Guy left the game with an injury to his left ankle and the offense was without tight end Dwayne Allen for the latter portion of the fourth quarter. There was no announcement of an injury to Allen, but he was limited in practice early last week with hip soreness.

This and that:

Luck (15,223) joined Peyton Manning, John Unitas and Bert Jones and the only Colts QBs with at least 15,000 career passing yards. Luck accomplished the feat in his 56th career game, tied for the second-fastest in NFL history. . . . Vinatieri converted 50- and 40-yard field goals to extend his streak of consecutive successful kicks to 27. . . . With 59 yards, Gore pushed his career total to 12,099 and moved past Thurman Thomas (12,074) into the No. 14 slot in NFL history. He appeared in his 81st straight game and made his 77th consecutive start, each the longest active streaks among running backs.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.