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September 15, 2013

NFL: Time will tell how much loss to Dolphins will hurt Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — This one hurt the Indianapolis Colts. Time will tell how much.

A tough, close win? Big, day-defining plays? The second-half comeback that turned clouds into sunlight?

This Sunday, the other team had ’em. Defeat left a hard question. Defeat usually does in the NFL.

Was that 24-20 loss Sunday to Miami a mere speed bump or something more telling?

You look at the schedule, and you can understand how much this hurt. The immediate future is a trek through a minefield, and a 2-0 record would have been much lighter baggage to carry. Next is a trip to San Francisco, with an obvious degree of difficulty. Four of the next six games are on the road. The next five weeks include a murderer’s row of the 49ers, Seattle and Denver, led by some guy named Manning.

The Colts’ hopes — not to mention their record — could sustain considerable damage in this trial by fire.

“Like I told them,” coach Chuck Pagano said, “It’s the National Football League. It doesn’t get any easier.”

You pick up the statistics sheet, and you can understand how much this hurt. There were five sacks by the defense. T.Y. Hilton was reintroduced to the game plan and had 124 receiving yards. The offense rolled up and down the carpet for 315 yards before halftime, the most robust first half in nine years, and that includes a lot of Peyton Manning days.

There were so many reasons for the Colts to win, except they didn’t.

“You can talk about the stats, but what matters is the final score,” Pagano said. “We were four points short.”

You could listen to the regret in the locker room and tell how much it hurt.

“We should have been victorious, but should have doesn’t count,” safety LaRon Landry was saying. “It’s going to be a bad feeling once we watch the tape. I already know it is.”

You could see the frustration leaking from Andrew Luck’s postgame appearance and tell how much it hurt.

“Disappointed. I guess a little angry at myself,” he mentioned of his feelings. “I feel like we are a better team than what we showed out there.”

The team that has specialized in finishing games scored one field goal after halftime.

The offense with the knack of finding its targets at just the right time, kept searching. Every one of Hilton’s 124 yards were in the first half. Reggie Wayne had one catch in the second half.

The escape artists with a relentless talent of finding a way committed such mishaps as losing a touchdown on a penalty.

“There were so many errors on our part,” Coby Fleener said. “It’s not typical of a Colts team.”

The quarterback who excels so at fourth quarter CPR, had two late chances against the Dolphins. On the first, he tried to force a pass to Wayne and had it intercepted. On the second, he was sacked on fourth down.

“I don’t think I managed that particularly well,” Luck said.

The sack?

“You never want to get sacked on fourth down. That’s one of the cardinal sins of playing football.”

The interception?

“That’s another play I’d love to have back.”

Hilton going mute in the second half?

“I didn’t give T.Y. good enough balls on some of his routes. So I think a lot of that burden falls on me.”

No quarterback/magician pulls a rabbit out of every helmet. So one close loss in mid-September is hardly fatal. More worrisome is the Colts’ defense. Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor had such fun in the opener, and the Dolphins were never stopped when they had to be on Sunday.

If that’s a trend, there are inflammable offenses on the schedule ahead to make the stat sheets smoke.

Plus, a team does not want to lose many home games it has a great chance to win. Not if it plans on playing football in January.

“It’s nothing they did special,” Landry said of the Dolphins. “It was everything that we created on our own.”

“We’ve got some things to clean up,” Pagano said. “We’re going to come in tomorrow, roll up our sleeves, look at the tape and make corrections.”

The cauldron of the NFL schedule awaits, and each loss means less margin for error. And that’s why Sunday hurt.

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