Colts fumble away opportunity to measure up to Ravens

Colts

Chuck Clark #36 of the Baltimore Ravens runs a fumble recovery run back for a 65-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Opportunity knocked. With the Lucas Oil Stadium roof and window wide open on a resplendent Sunday, it rapped its knuckles on the front door.

Baltimore, an undeniable BMOC in the AFC, represented something of a measuring stick for the Indianapolis Colts, who matched the Ravens’ 5-2 record but lacked their pedigree. Indy’s five wins had come against teams with a combined 13-27-1 record. Not a Super Bowl contender and maybe just one playoff possibility – the Chicago Bears, if we’re being generous – among ‘em.

It was a chance to step up and prove worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with these Ravens, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Tennessee Titans.

But no.

“Yeah it was definitely an opportunity missed,’’ coach Frank Reich said on a Zoom conference call.

Missed by this much: Ravens 24, Colts 10.

Outstanding early, the Colts were overwhelmed late. In a game whose margin of error would be razor thin, they turned the ball over twice – one was rookie Jonathan Taylor’s fault, the other the result of an incredulous overrule from the replay booth turning an incompletion into a Marcus Peters’ interception – that led to two Ravens’ touchdowns and a 14-10 deficit that widened as the game unfolded.

“We didn’t win the turnover battle,’’ Reich said. “You lose the turnover battle and the chances of losing go up significantly, especially against a good football team.’’

And the chances of making any type of meaningful statement and keeping pace with the Titans in the AFC South go Poof!

“Shoot, it’s a 16-game (season),’’ Philip Rivers said. “It’s a long season. Certainly (the Ravens are) a playoff football team. They’ve been in it the last couple of years. They’re a good football team that we played today.

“I don’t know that statements do you any good unless you finish the year off right. It’s one we let get away. It’s one they earned. They beat us. But it’s not anything . . . shoot, we’ve just got to pick up and move forward.’’

The Colts will have to do so in short order. They’re back at it Thursday against the 6-2 Titans in Nashville.

Rivers made reference to the phrase on his baseball cap, which is his life message: Nunc Coepi. That’s a Latin phrase for “Now I begin.’’

“If there’s ever a week you’ve got to Nunc Coepi, as we say, it’s this week,’’ he said. “Thursday will be here in a hurry.’’

And that will offer yet another opportunity for the Colts to prove they’re more than just one of the NFL’s ho-hum outfits. You know, good enough against many teams, but not good enough to step up in weight class.

Early Sunday, they were more than good enough. In fact, they made the vaunted Ravens appear out of their class.

Defensively, the Darius Leonard-led bunch swarmed and harassed and dominated the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Baltimore’s five first half possessions consisted of 25 plays and netted 55 yards and four first downs. The Ravens were 2-of-7 on third down and punted five times.

A Baltimore run game averaging 178.7 yards per game was stoned: 18 yards on 10 attempts.

Offensively, Taylor capped the Colts’ second drive with a 1-yard touchdown and Rivers had them on the move to add to the 7-0 lead. But on the second play of the ensuing drive, Taylor lost his first NFL fumble at the Baltimore 35 while fighting for extra yardage at the tail end of a 9-yard run.

 Safety Chuck Clark scooped up the fumble and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. He made it seem worse when he leapt over a fallen Rivers at the 30; Rivers had stumbled while backpedaling and getting in position to at least make a play on Clark.

Instead of adding to the early 7-0 lead in a game they were in absolute control of, it was 7-all.

“Offensively we had it rolling,’’ Reich said. “Just felt like we were moving the ball the way we wanted to. Then we had the turnover in the first half that obviously was a 14-point swing, more or less.

“We’ve got to recover from that against a good team and we had the opportunities to recover from that and we weren’t able to finish it.’’

The Colts led 10-7 at the half as Rodrigo Blankenship converted a 43-yard field goal late in the second quarter, but that proved to be the apex.

After intermission, it was the Ravens making the statement. They won for the first time in Indy after six unsuccessful visits, and extended their NFL-best streak of consecutive road victories to 10.

Jackson went to a short, controlled passing game that kept the Colts on their heels.

Baltimore’s first drive of the second half reached the Indy 3 before DeForest Buckner forced a fumble by Gus Edwards that Leonard gathered in – he fumbled and Bobby Okereke recovered that one – but the next two found the end zone.

Just like that, it was 21-10. In the third quarter, the Ravens rattled off 25 plays that netted 158 yards and 12 first downs.

“We have to make plays to get off the field,’’ Buckner said.

Meanwhile, the Colts offense got nothing done.

On the first play after the Buckner-Leonard-Okereke takeaway, Rivers looked for Marcus Johnson down the right side. However, his underthrown pass was intercepted by Marcus Peters.

Sorta.

The call on the field was an incompletion, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh challenged and the replay booth overturned the call even though it appeared Peters never had control of the football as he backpedaled and fell to the turf.

“After review, we have clear and obvious visual evidence where the defender controls the football, takes three steps, fumbles the ball and then is ultimately recovered by the defense,’’ Al Riveron, the NFL’s vice-president of officiating said on NFL Network.

Rivers blamed himself for a “poor throw’’ that was “underthrown,’’ but disagreed with the replay reversal.

“It’s gotten so really jacked up how the catch rule is,’’ he said. “Nobody that’s played any amount of football or has been around the game watched that and thought it was a catch, including the guy that dropped it.’’

With the Colts trailing 14-10, the offense followed with a three-and-out, and the Ravens capitalized by essentially putting the game out of reach with a withering 14-play, 75-yard drive. Jackson’s 9-yard TD capped it and provided a 21-10 cushion.

A failed fourth-and-inches at the Baltimore 16 with less than 6 minutes remaining represented the Colts’ final opportunity to make the most of the opportunity.

The Ravens, noted Reich, “played to their strengths and made two big plays.’’

Baltimore had forced 16 fumbles and recovered a league-high nine coming into the game. The Ravens extended their NFL-best streak of games with at least one takeaway to 21. Since entering the NFL in 2015, Peters leads the league with 38 takeaways, including 30 interceptions.

The Colts? They’re still looking for that statement moment.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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