By TOM JAMES
Missed opportunities. That’s what kept the Indianapolis Colts from leaving Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday with a win.
Thanks to some outstanding play by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a tenacious defense that made things tough on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, especially in the second half, the Miami Dolphins made just enough plays down the stretch to pull out a 24-20 win.
Tannehill completed 23-of-34 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown to come away victorious in his second career matchup with Luck. Indianapolis had won last year’s meeting 23-20 — which was also played at Lucas Oil Stadium — securing a victory in that game in much the same way that the Dolphins turned the tables on the Colts this time around.
“We had our chances. We made plays. Offensively, we moved the ball up and down the field. But we couldn’t convert and score touchdowns, especially early [in the first quarter] and then we missed a field goal,” Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano was quick to point out afterwards.
“We gave up too many big plays in the first half. A couple runs, the passes. It was a darn good football team that came in here. We knew that going in. Credit them. We just didn’t make enough plays. They made just enough to get out of here with a win.”
Pagano’s right. The Colts rolled up more total offensive yardage (448 to 398) and more first downs (23 to 21) than Miami. Luck more than held his own against Tannehill’s Dolphins, completing 25-of-43 passes for 321yards and a touchdown. He also ran four times for 38 yards.
The difference, though, were the mental and physical errors that ended up costing Indianapolis most of the afternoon. Luck was intercepted once in the end zone early in the fourth quarter when he under threw wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Another pass, later in the quarter, to tight end Coby Fleener was very nearly picked off in the end zone when here appeared to be some communication issues between the two former Stanford players.
Perhaps the biggest example of the Colts’ issues came on their initial offensive drive of the game. Luck led Indianapolis from its own 20-yard line down to the Miami 34. But a pair of incomplete passes to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey led to a 52-yard field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri.
The kick appeared to have the distance but clanked off the the right upright and bounced back on the field. That was perhaps an omen for how the rest of the day was going to go for the Colts offense.
Indianapolis fell behind 7-0 on a 18-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to wide receiver Mike Wallace and 14-3 on a 10-yard run by running back Lamar Miller. Vinatieri did connect on a 30-yard field goal after the Dolphins’ opening score.
A three-yard touchdown pas from Luck to Fleener narrowed the margin to 14-10 early in the second quarter. And a one-yard plunge by running back Ahmad Bradshaw put Indianapolis on top 17-14 with 1:26 left in the first half.
Miami (2-0) was able to tie the game right before halftime as placekicker Caleb Sturgis nailed a 54-yard field goal as time expired.
Sturgis got two attempts to kick, missing on the first try but Pagano had called a time out prior to the ball being snapped. He made his second one, however, and momentum shifted back to the Dolphins.
Indianapolis took a 20-17 lead early in the third quarter when Vinatieri made a 38-yard effort. The Colts got a break when an apparent Tannehill incomplete pass was ruled to be a fumble and was recovered by safety Joe Lefeged.
After moving quickly down to the Miami 20-yard line, the drive bogged down again. It appeared as if the Colts had scored a touchdown on a pass from Luck to Fleener, but Indianapolis was flagged for an illegal shift on the play. Pagano settled for the field goal.
The Dolphins took the lead for good at 24-20 with 4:40 left in the quarter as tight end Charles Clay scored on a one-yard run.
Indianapolis still had its chances to pull out yet another comeback victory, but the end zone interception thwarted one scoring chance as did a fourth-down sack of Luck by former Colts outside linebacker PhIllip Wheeler with 1:35 left in the game.
Pagano’s team had the football at the Dolphins’ 23-yard line before the drive finally came to an end.
“We just kind of lost the field position battle there in the third quarter. But, again, we had our chances,” the Colts coach lamented. “We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Besides Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton broke loose for six catches and 124 yards. Fleener added four receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. Wayne was double-teamed most of the game but was able to come up with five receptions for 46 yards.
Bradshaw, making his first start at running back for the Colts, picked up 65 yards in 15 carries.
Miami’s Wallace, who signed with the Dolphins during the offseason after beginning his career in Pittsburgh, had nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
“We got to play consistent football for 60 minutes as best as you can. We got some things to clean up,” Pagano admitted. “We got to do a better job. There were some positives to take away from this. We’re going to come in [today], roll up our sleeves, look at the [game] tape, make the corrections.”
Indianapolis (1-1) will make its first road trip of the season, heading to San Francisco this weekend.
“Like I told [the team], it’s the National Football League. It doesn’t get any easier. We’ve got to go out west and play a darn good football team in the 49ers,” the Colts coach said. “We’ll go back, make the corrections and go back to work.”