It’s safe to say that the Indianapolis Colts have been living on the National Football League edge for most of the past two years.
While head coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck had combined to lead the Colts to a 17-7 record since the start of the 2012 season, 10 of those wins had come thanks to fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks directed by Luck.
Almost to a man, Indianapolis players and coaches knew that they couldn’t keep tempting fate. At some point, the Colts would find themselves into a hole that was too deep to dig out of.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday as the St. Louis Rams scored early and often en route to a 38-8 win in front of 66,004 stunned fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Credit the Rams, their coaching staff, their players. They came to play. They beat us in every single phase. From the first strip-sack, punt return [which both resulted in touchdowns], a minus-four in turnover margin, one of five in the red [zone], hit their big plays. We just didn’t do anything,” a visibly angry Pagano said afterward.
“I take full responsibility as the head football coach. I did not have this team ready to play. We have to put it behind us. We have a short week, playing [against Tennessee on Thursday night].”
St. Louis bolted to a 38-0 lead midway in the third quarter, thanks largely to an opportunistic defense that forced five turnovers. The Rams intercepted Luck three times and added a late pickoff in the fourth quarter off the arm of backup Matt Hasselbeck.
The first touchdown of the game occurred when Luck was strip-sacked by defensive end Robert Quinn. Defensive end Chris Long picked up the loose ball and rambled 45 yards for the score.
The Rams’ first-quarter score pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. The Indianapolis offensive line couldn’t handle the Rams’ athletic and quick defensive front, which made running or throwing the football a near impossibility in the early stages of the game.
After rookie running back Zac Stacy scored on a 1-yard run with 14:30 left in the second quarter, which pushed the St. Louis lead to 14-0, the floodgates opened. Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin then scored three straight touchdowns — on a 98-yard punt return, on a 57-yard pass from quarterback Kellen Clemens and on a 81-yard pass from Clemens. Greg Zuerlein ended the Rams scoring parade with a 32-yard field goal with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter.
The Colts’ lone touchdown came with 1:35 left in the third quarter, running back Donald Brown scoring on a 13-yard pass from Luck. Tight end Coby Fleener hauled in a 2-point conversion pass.
That was basically it for the Colts. Two of Luck’s interceptions came near the St. Louis goal line. Hasselbeck’s pass was also intercepted near the Rams’ end zone.
“I thought we practiced well [last week]. There was nothing during the course of the week [that would have predicted Indianapolis’ struggles]. But obviously I didn’t have them ready to play,” Pagano said.
“We knew [how good the Rams defensive front was]. They are number one in the league in sacks. The evidence was right there in front of us on tape. So they knew it. Our guys, to a man, knew it.”
Luck completed 29 of 47 passes for 353 yards. In addition to being intercepted three times, he was also sacked three times and pressured on seven other occasions.
As a team, Indianapolis had 406 yards in total offense, but 332 of those yards came after the game was out of reach.
Clemens, who is filling in for injured starter Sam Bradford, hit on only 9 of 16 pass attempts for 247 yards. Austin, meanwhile, had two receptions for 138 yards and two TDs.
The punt return for touchdown came after a 51-yard punt by Pat McAfee and apparent downing by Colts safety Sergio Brown at the 2-yard line. Austin, though, picked up the loose ball, made a couple of moves and streaked down the right sidelines for the score.
“[We] had guys down there and a bunch of guys maybe assumed the play is going to be downed [around] the 1-yard line,” Pagano said. “Again, we told our guys, they knew this guy would catch it at the one, catch it five yards deep. He’s that type of player and he’s dynamic that way.
“Because of his special abilities and traits, and the way he can return, [the Rams] give him the flexibility to do whatever. He made a great play and we obviously didn’t cover well enough.”
Now 6-3 for the season, Indianapolis will play AFC South rival Tennessee on Thursday night at LP Field. The game will be televised by The NFL Network.
Thanks to a 29-27 win by Jacksonville over the Titans on Sunday in Nashville, the Colts retain a two-game lead in the division.
“We’ve got to move on. … [The NFL] is a tough business. It’s not for the meek. It’s for grown men. Everybody in that locker room — coaches and players — we got broad enough shoulders to handle it,” Pagano said.
“We ain’t got time to dwell on it. It is what it is. We got our butts kicked and we got to move on.”
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