Can the Colts trust their defense moving forward?

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Aside from looking on from the sideline as Andrew Luck closes out a no-doubt victory with a couple of kneel-downs, the situation Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium was ideal for D’Qwell Jackson and the Indianapolis Colts defense.

Luck’s second touchdown pass to Jack Doyle and Adam Vinatieri’s ensuing PAT completed a long road back against Detroit. The Colts led 35-34. Thirty-seven seconds remained. The Lions took over at their own 25-yard line.

Make one last stop, and it doesn’t matter until film study the next day the Lions had spent much of the afternoon piling up 448 yards and scoring on six of 10 possessions against Ted Monachino’s defense.

“That’s what you envision as a child, coming up with that big play when the game is on the line,” veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said Thursday. “That’s the ideal situation whether you play offense, defense or special teams.

“Make a play with the game on the line.”

The Lions did, coming up with three impactful plays in rapid-fire succession, four including Matt Prater’s 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. The next play, Matt Prater’s 43-yard field goal with 4 seconds left ended it.

The Colts didn’t, and the failure of the defense resulted in hefty criticism being heaped on Chuck Pagano for his late-game decisions. You know, the timeout with 1:15 remaining and opting for a touchback on the final kickoff rather than having Pat McAfee launch one of his “mortar” kicks to the goal line that might have forced a return and drained valuable seconds off the clock.

Monachino wanted nothing to do with the second-guessing.

It was the responsibility of his defense to close things out. Period.

“What coach did there at the end of the game, he absolutely has to be able to trust us with 37 seconds left in the game to win a game,” Monachino said. “We weren’t able to hold up our end of the deal.

“We did not finish or start the way we needed to finish and start.”

Monachino’s frustration was evident, and the defense’s inability to close out the game begs a few questions:

  • Can it be trusted?
  • If not, will that affect the way offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski manages a game or Luck directs the offense? Might Luck – like Peyton Manning early in his career – decide to take risks because he doesn’t trust the defense to hold up following a punt?

“I think it’s dangerous to do that,” Chudzinski said. “You have to play the game and you have to execute the things you have in the game plan. Once you’re in the game, besides the score, it’s how things are working, what adjustments you’re making based on how things are working and how we are executing.

“If you start chasing too much or start worrying about things that aren’t specific to what we need to do or our execution, then you get yourself in trouble.”

Pagano already has altered his approach because of a prior failure. He admitted his decision to have McAfee drill a touchback rather a short kick at the end of the game was impacted by a play that occurred at the end of the first half last season against Denver.

The Colts led 17-0 and faced a fourth-and-6 at their own 31 with 15 seconds to play. McAfee pounded a 52-yard punt that Omar Bolden returned 83 yards for a touchdown.

“I’ve been burned in the past with end-of-half, end-of-game things where you kick a ball when you’re supposed to kick it out of bounds and you kick it to a guy you aren’t supposed to kick it to and he runs it back for a touchdown,” Pagano said. “I’m counting on our defense in that situation to go out there and play good football with 37 seconds on the clock and get us off the field and somebody make a play.”

After one of their patented slow starts – the first three series netted 31 total yards – the Colts got their act together. Luck closed the game by producing four touchdowns and two Vinatieri field goals on his final seven possessions.

His 6-yard touchdown to Doyle with 37 seconds remaining put the Lions in a tight corner and the game squarely in the hands of his defense. But so ineffective was the defense that Detroit needed only 25 seconds to navigate the necessary distance.

“You figure in a 65-play game, 60 of those plays are going to be ties and those other five you’ve got to win,” Monachino said. “We had our opportunities to stop them a number of times or minimize gains a number of times and weren’t able to get it done.”

The first play of the telling drive set the tone: a 19-yard dump-off to running back Theo Riddick.

“We reeled after that first down,” Monachino said.

While everyone is looking ahead to Sunday’s difficult test at Denver, Jackson conceded it’s difficult to totally forget the last time the Colts defense was on the field.

“You remember those for years after the fact,” he said. “Those are games you had a chance to win. One stop, four downs and you either win it or lose it.

“Those are the games you remember.”

Those are games that come down to a matter of trust. Pagano trusted his defense to finish. Moving forward, that must remain the case because the alternative is risky business.

“If I were to put my offensive coordinator cap on, when you know you have a defense that will hold up in those situations, maybe the calls are a little different, maybe you’re a little more aggressive in certain areas,” Jackson said. “The way things happen throughout a game, you really have to hone in. ‘OK, how’s the defense playing? How’s the offense playing?’ It can change some critical moments.

“It’s all about trust. (Sunday) was tough. As a competitor you feel like you let the offense down because they scored a ton of points and did everything they could to keep the game close.

“When you don’t hold up your side of the bargain, it’s a tough pill to swallow. You just have to try to do a better job when you get that next chance.’’