HOUSTON, Tex. — The refrain was strong Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium, but hard to digest.
It never comes down to one play.
Just once, we’re going to argue the point.
It came down to one play. One wayward Rodrigo Blankenship 42-yard field goal attempt in overtime.
The Indianapolis Colts’ latest bit of season-opening futility – a 20-20 tie against the Texans; at least the eight-game losing streak is over, if that matters – came down to one play.
One play that would have erased Matt Ryan’s three fumbled exchanges with Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly; the defense twice losing track of Houston tight end O.J. Howard for gashing touchdown catches; the decision to go Wildcat on fourth-and-goal at the 2 and Nyheim Hines getting smothered for a 2-yard loss; rookie Alec Pierce dropping a TD two plays before the failed Wildcat; Ryan suffering an interception on a great defensive play by former Colt first-round draft pick Jerry Hughes.
Take a breath.
One play that would have made everyone forget Grant Stuard downing a Matt Haack punt at the Houston 1, the defense forcing a punt, but E.J. Speed extending the drive by running into punter Cameron Johnston; Kenny Moore II handing Houston 54 yards on a pair of interference penalties; right tackle Braden Smith giving up a Hughes sack and suffering a false start on consecutive snaps.
OK, you get the idea. Magnifying the significance of the moment and the miss was the way 2021 ended in Jacksonville and the lofty expectations that followed the Colts into this bounce-back season.
As sloppy and inefficient as the Colts were on occasion – 2-of-5 in the red zone, 6-of-16 on third and fourth down, five total fumbles, seven penalties – it came down to one play.
That’s the life of an NFL placekicker. Split the uprights, and you’re the hero. Send it elsewhere, and the weight of the franchise is on your shoulders.
Sunday, there were roughly 190 plays.
Blankenship’s missed 42-yard field goal just after the 2-minute mark of overtime was the absolute killer. He pushed it wide right.
“I didn’t see anything in the operation that led to the miss,’’ coach Frank Reich said.
He quickly added a 42-yarder isn’t exactly a slam dunk, but “you’re in the 80 percentile.’’
A 13-yard Ryan-to-Mo Alie-Cox completion gave the Colts a first-and-10 at the Houston 24. Workhorse Jonathan Taylor (31 carries, 161 yards, one TD) burst for 8, then was hit for a minus-3. On third-and-5, Ryan tried to roll to his right – it worked earlier in the game for a nice gain to Michael Pittman Jr. – but was sacked by Hughes.
The sack hurt, but still left Blankenship with the 42-yarder.
“Obviously had a lot of confidence that we’d have a 40-, 42-yarder worst-case scenario,’’ Reich said.
Added Ryan: “I thought we put ourselves in a good position. It’s football. It’s tough.’’
Blankenship retained his kicking job after Jake Verity struggled during their training camp battle. But it’s reasonable to question the level of faith the team had in him. He headed into his third season having converted a lackluster 44-of-53 attempts (83%), including the playoffs.
Blankenship knocked down a game-winning 39-yarder in overtime against Green Bay as a rookie, but also ricocheted a 33-yarder off the left uprights in the playoff loss to Buffalo. In the week 5 overtime loss at Baltimore last season, he suffered a hip injury in pregame warm-ups and would miss a PAT and a 47-yard field goal attempt on the final play of regulation.
The question had to be asked after the OT tie with the Texans, and was.
Is Blankenship the Colts’ kicker moving forward?
“I can’t even begin to think about (that),’’ Reich said. “In my mind, he’s our kicker. We go back and everybody gets evaluated. Coaches, players, we all get evaluated.
“If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s don’t rush into those kind of decisions. Rod’s done a lot of good things for us.’’
Just not enough when it mattered Sunday.
Blankenship drilled 45- and 27-yard field goals as well as a pair of PATs. But he also gave Houston a helping hand by knocking a pair of kickoffs out of bounds, each time giving it possession at the 40. The defense had his back each time, forcing punts.
Of course, the Colts put their kicker in that position with three quarters of erratic play.
“Obviously a lot of mistakes in the first half, really the first three quarters,’’ Ryan said.
The Colts took a 3-0 lead on Blankenship’s 45-yard field goal at the 5:13 mark of the first quarter, then allowed Houston to rattle off 20 unanswered points.
Then, they countered with 17 straight of their own: Blankenship’s 27-yard field goal, Taylor’s 2-yard run and Ryan’s 15-yard toss to Pittman, who made one defender miss and dragged Jonathan Owens into the end zone with him to produce a 20-all tie with 1:54 remaining.
In the aftermath of the first tie in the Indy era and the first since a 20-20 stalemate with Green Bay in 1982, the Colts knew where the bulk of the blame rested.
“Obviously a lot to clean up,’’ Reich said. “We couldn’t finish drives. Mistakes in all three phases at times. Just had too many penalties. We were not a disciplined team today.
“Anytime there’s penalties and mistakes, that starts with me.’’
He was stunned his offense came away with so little after doing so much. The 517 total yards were the second-most in Reich’s five seasons while the 33 first downs were tied for the second-most in franchise history.
“I just know we ran the ball well,’’ Reich said. “I know we threw it well and believe me, nobody is worried about yards but you can’t ignore certain production.
“But to gain those kinds of yards, you’ve got to score 40 points. You can’t walk away with 20 points with that much offense. That’s not near good enough.’’
What would have been good enough was 23 points.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.