By TOM JAMES
Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano wanted to use Sunday’s preseason opening game with the Buffalo Bills as a measuring stick. He wanted to see just how far his team had come over the first two weeks of training camp.
After watching the Colts muddle through in a 44-20 loss to Buffalo, though, Pagano was anything but pleased.
Dropped passes, turnovers, ill-timed sacks, and inconsistent effort. That’s what plagued Indianapolis. That, and the fact that the Colts were missing 17 players due to injuries and lost four other guys over the course of the game.
Also, most of the team’s key offensive and defensive starters got playing time early and then watched the rest of the game from the sidelines.
Excuses for the way the Colts played? No. Reasons as to why Indy struggled? Partly.
Despite the missing personnel, Pagano expected a much better effort from the rest of his squad. He didn’t get it.
“Obviously, everybody top to bottom is disappointed. Never envisioned [getting] blown out in the football game and having the outcome that we had,” the second-year Colts coach said afterward.
“It’s not what we came in here [Lucas Oil Stadium] to do what we did [Sunday]. Like I told the guys. It’s never as bad as you think it is and it’s never as goods you think it is. It’s somewhere in-between is where reality lies.”
Indianapolis got off to a pretty good start with Andrew Luck starting the game at quarterback. The Colts picked up one first down on its initial offensive possession and then moved the football down to the Bills’ 43-yard line before tight end Coby Fleener could up the football with a fumble.
Fleener had caught a short pass from Luck and then evaded a defender before rambling 24 yards. Cornerback Ron Brooks’ hard tackle forced the fumble, which was recovered by free safety Da’Norris Searcy.
Indianapolis’ defense held, forcing a fumble of its own. Cornerback Josh Gordy came up with the ball. Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck then directed the Colts on a 7-play, 18-yard drive which resulted in a 25-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
The Bills tied it at 3-3 on its next possession as backup placekicker Dustin Hopkins connected on a 24-yard kick, closing out a 9-play, 46-yard drive.
Hasselbeck responded by leading Indianapolis on a 4-play drive, culminating in a 45-yard touchdown pass to a diving T.Y. Hilton, who caught the ball on the 1-yard line and rolled into the end zone.
As far as the Colts were concerned, that was pretty much the extent of the highlights. There was a 44-yard field goal by Vinatieri midway through the second quarter and a 72-yard fumble return for a touchdown by rookie free agent cornerback Daxton Swanson early in the fourth quarter.
The rest of the afternoon belonged to Buffalo.
How bad did it get? How about a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Marquiese Goodwin, a 17-yard touchdown reception by Dorin Dickerson, a 6-yard TD catch by Da’Rick Rogers, a 30-yard field goal by Rian Lindell, a 5-yard touchdown by Brandon Kaufman and a 17-yard interception return by Jumal Rolle.
Pretty, it wasn’t.
Luck started the game at quarterback for Indianapolis and he left after completing 4-of-passes for 51 yards. Hasselbeck connected on 4-of-8 throws for 75 yards and a touchdown. Second-year quarterback Chandler Harnish went the rest of the way, completing 14-of-33 passes for 109 yards and an interception.
Rookie E.J. Manuel started at quarterback for the Bills and played relatively well, connecting on 16-of-21 passes for 107 yards and one TD. Fellow rookie Jeff Tuel went the rest of the way, completing 19-of-23 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
As rough as the Colts played, Pagano searched to find something good to take away from the game.
“We had some positive things in the first half with our first offense. I thought Luck was driving the team and then you shoot yourself in the foot. We were off late on the communication with the snap and we had a sack. We get a false start and you’re first-and-15. We get a big play to Fleener. But give Buffalo credit. They came up and smack him pretty good and he puts the ball on the carpet,” he reviewed.
“You have a chance for a great drive there. And then you have a chance for a big play at the back of the end zone to Coby. He’s been making those plays all through training camp. He’ll bounce back from that.”
Pagano said that issues on both sides of the ball are fixable.
“Batted passes, we had plenty of opportunities to make plays on both sides of the football and special teams. [But] we’ll go back to work. Everybody is accountable, top to bottom,” he voiced.
“We’ll take a look at the film [today] and we’ll go back to work. Get back up to Anderson and get things fixed. Come back and put this one behind us. We obviously got to play better and we will play better.”
The Colts have today off and then will have practices Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Indianapolis will play its next preseason game next Sunday night with a nationally-televised (Fox Sports) matchup with the New York Giants.