Luck Runs Out in Indianapolis
By Corbin Smith
Ever since being crowned as the new “face of the franchise” after being selected first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, quarterback Andrew Luck has made a living leading the Indianapolis Colts to comeback victories. As a matter of fact, Luck’s eight comeback wins in 17 career games stands as an NFL record, and he continued to build on his resume after scampering for a 19 yard game-winning touchdown run to take down the Oakland Raiders last week.
Despite struggling to contain the Miami Dolphins offense most of the afternoon, corner Greg Toler deflected an errant pass from Ryan Tannehill on a crucial third down play with four minutes remaining to give Luck and the offense another shot to steal a game before time expired. Colts fans have grown used to Luck’s late-game heroics, and after Brandon Fields punted the ball back to Indianapolis with 3:47 left on the clock, it seemed highly probable that he would pull off another miracle.
Luck opened up the final drive by breaking away from All-Pro sack artist Cameron Wake and escaping for a 14 yard run, igniting the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium. Two plays later, Luck hit a wide open Griff Whalen on a crossing route and the young receiver raced 22 yards to enter Miami territory. CBS cameras panned toward Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who became more and more visually nervous as he watched helplessly along the sideline. His team was quickly losing its grip on victory, and like many other teams, he had seen this act before.
Facing a 3rd and 6 from the Miami 41 yard line, Luck once again evaded the Dolphins pass rush and found Reggie Wayne for an 18 yard connection to give the Colts a new set of downs. In a matter of a minute and a half, the Colts had drove 63 yards and now had Miami on its heels. Instead of entering panic mode however, the Dolphins found a way to neutralize the Colts’ passing attack. Interior pressure forced a series of rushed throws, and after Philbin burned Miami’s second timeout to prepare for a 4th and 10 play, free agent signee Philip Wheeler came untouched on a blitz and sacked Luck, virtually ending the game.
Clock struck midnight for an Indianapolis team that has lived by the comeback since Luck’s arrival. The Dolphins ran out the clock and earned a significant road win, while the Colts inability to play a complete game finally caught up with the team. Losing a home game in the NFL always stings, and as injuries continue to rack up for the Colts, games like this one could come back to haunt Indianapolis later in the season.
Unlike last week, the Colts were unable to overcome giving up too many big plays, as Tannehill threw for 319 yards and averaged nearly 10 yards per pass play yesterday. The secondary has made numerous mistakes during the course of the first few weeks, and while some growing pains were expected with several new players on defense, coach Chuck Pagano probably didn’t expect the unit to have this much trouble. Miami has more firepower than Oakland, but the Dolphins won’t be mistaken for an offensive juggernaut either.
Adding to the issues on defense, the offense once again went missing at critical times during the game. The Colts moved the ball at will against Miami during the first half, but Luck and his troops managed to put only three points on the board after halftime. After a penalty against Reggie Wayne wiped out a third quarter touchdown strike to Coby Fleener, Indianapolis ended up having to take a field goal and the offense sputtered the next two drives.
The Colts again appeared set to take control of the game during the early stages of the 4th quarter, as Pagano challenged a spot on a converted Miami 4th down attempt and the call ended up being reversed. Luck immediately steered the offense deep into Miami territory, but his gun-slinger mentality backfired and Brent Grimes soared to intercept a pass in front of Wayne in the end zone. Even though the young 2nd year quarterback threw for 321 yards, he made several questionable decisions during the course of this game, with the pivotal interception being the most notable.
Sooner or later, this team will need to learn how to play a complete game. As brilliant as Luck has been during his time in the league, an NFL team cannot expect to fall behind and win games in the closing minutes every week. The Colts have been plagued by inconsistency on both sides of the ball so far this season, as the offense has went through spurts where it looked invincible while also dealing with long stretches of ineptitude. Defensively, Indianapolis did do a better job pressuring the quarterback this week and sacked Tannehill five times on the day, but the unit continues to give up big plays in both the passing and running game too frequently.
These issues need to be addressed quickly, as the schedule looks daunting over the next few weeks. With a road contest against the 49ers next week and the Seahawks coming to town a few weeks later, the Colts will be tested by two of the league’s premier teams in a short window. Injuries have started to take a toll on this roster already, and losing guard Donald Thomas for the season to a quad tendon tear further complicates matters along the offensive line. If Dwayne Allen (hip) misses more time and Jim Irsay cannot find a capable replacement for Vick Ballard on the trade market, the offense will be too onedimensional to expect similar success to last year.
In 2012, a favorable schedule allowed the Colts to flourish despite several glaring flaws. This year, the schedule might not be so forgiving, and Sunday showed what will happen if this team can’t play four solid quarters of football against quality teams.