Monday, October 27, 2014

Not even the Colts know what happened in heavy loss

Gregg Doyel,
October 27, 2014
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck greets Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger following an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 51-34. (Don Wright, AP / FR87040 AP)
PITTSBURGH — Don't blame this on Vontae Davis' knee. Or Reggie Wayne's elbow. Or Trent Richardson's hamstring.
Those injuries are real and that excuse is easy, but don't go there. Not if you're a Colts fan trying to rationalize this 51-34 loss to the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.
There is no rationalizing a game where the opposing quarterback nearly sets an NFL record for passing yards, the Ben Roethlisberger pinball machine finally stopping on 522 yards, 32 short of Norm Van Brocklin's record from 1951.
There is no rationalizing no-name receivers (Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, unless it's Markus Bryant and Martavis Wheaton) and a big-name tight end (Heath Miller) running so open, so often, that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked about it afterward — and Tomlin gestured toward the Colts' locker room.
"They're probably better equipped than us to answer that," Tomlin said.
Don't be so sure. The Colts had no clue what happened on Sunday, or why. They were impressive after defeat — more impressive than they were during defeat, I assure you of that — by walking around the locker room with voices lifted and heads held high and fingers pointed only at themselves.
"That's on me," Andrew Luck said several times.
"My fault," said safety Mike Adams.
"I didn't do a very good job of getting this team ready," said coach Chuck Pagano.
Great leadership all around, but zero answers. How did a Steelers offensive line that is ranked by the statistical wizards at Football Outsiders as the NFL's 29th worst in pass protection keep Roethlisberger from being hit on 48 of 49 pass attempts? Nobody knew. Why was Roethlisberger, who routinely hangs onto the ball too long and suffered 20 sacks in the first seven games — second-most in the league — never sacked Sunday? Shrugs.
The best the Colts could come up with was this:
"This is the NFL," said defensive end Cory Redding.
"That's the National Football League," Pagano said.
Now that we've settled that, here's what we're not going to do: Lament the missing Vontae Davis, Reggie Wayne and Trent Richardson.
"No way," said Colts center Jonotthan Harrison. "Nobody in here is doing that."
Missing two of their best skill players didn't stop Luck from throwing for 400 yards or the offense from gaining 448 total yards or scoring 34 points. No Wayne meant more Donte Moncrief, who responded with seven catches for 113 yards and a sensational 31-yard touchdown. No Richardson meant more Ahmad Bradshaw, who broke ankles all over the field — he broke four ankles on one play, sending a rippling murmur through the crowd — and produced 87 combined yards rushing and receiving on 13 touches.
As for Vontae Davis, the star cornerback who left in the first quarter with a knee injury, well, it's like this:
The Colts defense was lit up before he was hurt.
Specifically, Vontae Davis was lit up before Vontae Davis was hurt, including the time he was standing sentry in the back of the end zone while Wheaton ran in front of him for an easy 18-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead. That came two plays after Wheaton had beaten Davis for nine yards over the middle.
With Davis, without him, the Colts were lit up at nearly never-seen levels. The Steelers' 35 points was the third-most ever surrendered in the first half by the Colts. Roethlisberger set franchise records for completions (40), yards (522) and touchdowns (six). The yardage is the most ever against the Colts.
Davis, one of the better cornerbacks in the league, would have helped with that. You're not stupid, I'm not stupid, we can both surmise that the Colts defense is better with Vontae Davis than without him.
But the absence of Davis doesn't explain 51 points and 639 yards allowed. It doesn't explain the Colts' inability to tackle Le'Veon Bell, who ran 24 times for 92 yards and caught six passes for 56 yards. It doesn't explain Martavis Bryant, who entered the game with two catches for 40 yards on the season, catching five for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
And none of those skill players being out has anything to do with the physical domination of the Steelers up front — on both sides of the ball. The Steelers hit Luck so many times that the media was asking him after the game if he's OK (he said he's fine).
The Colts couldn't get to Roethlisberger, even one of their biggest moments of potential chaos blowing up in their face. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones, in his first action in six games, forced Roethlisberger from the pocket late in the first half and got a hand on Big Ben's foot. Roethlisberger stepped out of that sack attempt, fled the pocket and found Antonio Brown wide open. Simple game of pitch and catch, and Brown ran under the Roethlisberger rainbow and then ran away from Greg Toler for a 47-yard touchdown and a 35-10 lead.
Meanwhile, MVP candidate Andrew Luck threw a baffling pick-six on an out route for Hakeem Nicks that Steelers cornerback William Gay jumped for a 33-yard touchdown and a 21-3 Steelers lead. For Indianapolis, you see, this was a breakdown of epic proportions.
Even so, the Colts made it a game. Down 35-10, they got within 42-34. They had the ball. Luck dropped back to pass.
And fell onto his backside. In the end zone. Where he threw the ball away to avoid being tackled.
Which is a safety.
This was a butt-safety of a game for the Colts. Hate it, but don't excuse it. Don't rationalize it. Be as honest about what happened Sunday as Andrew Luck, who was asked to pinpoint which team the Colts are: The one that had won five games in a row — or the one that lost Sunday 51-34?
"Who you are is your last game," Luck said. "And this is our last game."
Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter: @GreggDoyelStar

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