INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – When the postscript is written on a season that undoubtedly will lead to massive change for the underachieving Indianapolis Colts, there won’t be a lack of material.
A team destined to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98 has provided ample ammunition: shoddy pass protection, penalties, dropped passes, an unreliable defense.
For the sake of argument and brevity, we’re going to focus on a pair of situations – four plays that are so similar in nature and consequence – that are at the top our list of wasted opportunities in a lost season.
The most recent: third-and-7 and fourth-and 1 in the closing minutes in Sunday’s crippling 22-17 loss to the Houston Texans.
It’s precursor: third-and-10 and fourth-and-1 in the closing minutes of the 30-27 loss to the Jacksonville Oct. 2 in London.
The foundation of Andrew Luck’s five-year career, and the Colts under Luck’s direction, has been the ability to perform when the pressure’s at its most severe. Of Luck’s 44 career wins, 17 are the result of engineering comebacks in the fourth quarter and overtime. Since 2012, the Colts are a league-best 31-12 in one-possession games (8 points or fewer), but just 5-4 this season following the breakdown against the Texans.
Luck lamented the overall ineffectiveness against Houston.
“We obviously didn’t execute like we needed to execute to give ourselves a better . . . chance to win that game,’’ he said. “All that being said, we had a chance at the end of it and we didn’t capitalize.’’
He might as well have been talking about the failed business trip to London.
Two pressurized series and four critical plays separated by 4,000 miles, yet a major reason the Luck-led Colts will suffer an indignity the Peyton Manning-led Colts never suffered during his 14-year career with the team: missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
After three-and-a-half careless quarters against Houston, the Colts found themselves in position to atone and seize control of the AFC South. They trailed 22-17 and faced a third-and-7 at the Houston 48 with 1:57 to play. Then:
- Y. Hilton ran a quick curl, secured a Luck pass close to the first-down sticks, and tried to spin inside for extra yardage. He was pulled down, after 6 yards, short of the 41. Fourth down.
That’s where it ended. A called screen to running back Robert Turbin crashed and burned. Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork shrugged off the attempted block of left guard Jon Harrison and put immediate pressure on Luck, whose hurried throw to Turbin was off target.
It’s easy to speculate, but check the video. If Luck had had time to make an accurate pass to Turbin, the play had a chance. Center Ryan Kelly had pulled to the right and was blocking linebacker Benardrick McKinney.
Luck still would have had to finish the drive, but the opportunity was dashed on fourth-and-1.
“We have to execute better on that last play,’’ veteran Joe Reitz said. “It was a good call, one we hit for a big play earlier in the game.’’
In the third quarter, Luck dialed up a similar screen to Frank Gore, and the veteran running back, aided by Harrison’s crunching lead block on McKinney, scooted for an 18-yard touchdown.
After three-and-a-half careless quarters against Jacksonville, the Colts found themselves in position to avert a 1-3 start. They trailed by 3, and faced a third-and-10 at their 42-yard line with 1:48 remaining. Then:
- Hilton ran a shallow cross, secured a Luck pass and headed toward the first-down marker. He came up about 2 feet short, stretching too late. Fourth down.
Again, it all ended on the ensuing play. Luck stepped up in the pocket, considered scrambling for the 1 yard, then flipped a pass over the middle to tight end Dwayne Allen. The football was slightly behind Allen, who was unable to grab it. He shouldered the blame. It was a drop. But Jaguars cornerback Josh Johnson arrived along with the football, perhaps forcing the drop.
Two series. Four plays.
In a lost season.