By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — It was bound to happen sooner or later. One of these Indianapolis Colts comeback attempts was destined to fail.
The reckoning came Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, when Andrew Luck failed to score on two fourth-quarter drives and the Miami Dolphins held on for a 24-20 victory.
"You got to give them credit," Indianapolis defensive end Cory Redding said. "They made more plays than we did. We had a lot of opportunities to make plays. We shot ourselves in the foot a whole bunch of times, but we went out there and tried to fix our mistakes and keep playing. At the end of the day, they made more plays and they came in here and got the win."
There was an odd feeling in the Colts' locker room afterward. This was just the second time in 12 games with Luck under center that Indianapolis failed to win a contest decided by seven points or less.
And it came just before the start of the most brutal stretch of the schedule. The Colts (1-1) travel to San Francisco next week and also will play Seattle, Denver and Houston over the next six weeks.
It's likely the Miami defeat will haunt this team for awhile. If so, it will sting even more because of the many missed opportunities.
"We didn't finish," safety LaRon Landry said. "It's a team effort, offense, defense and special teams. We got to build together."
The game seemed to be building toward a familiar finish when Luck and the offense took possession at their own 14-yard line trailing by four points with 3:57 remaining in the game.
The second-year quarterback needed just six plays to bring up a first down at the Dolphins' 23-yard line with 1:50 to play, but the drive stalled there.
Luck threw incomplete to T.Y. Hilton in the end zone on first down. A miscommunication with tight end Coby Fleener led to a pass that was nearly intercepted by Miami's Chris Clemons on second down, and Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll batted the ball away from Griff Whalen on third down.
Miami brought the house on the final snap, veteran running back Donald Brown was bowled over by former Indianapolis linebacker Philip Wheeler and Luck was swallowed in a sea of white jerseys before he ever had a chance to make a throw.
"You never want to get sacked on fourth down," Luck said. "That's almost one of those cardinal sins, if you will, of playing football. You get the ball out of your hands no matter what. So I'm severely disappointed with myself for not giving our guys a chance because I thought the O-line did a heck of a job all day."
Luck was sacked three times overall but just once before the fourth quarter.
His biggest regret likely came earlier in the final period when a pass intended for Reggie Wayne was intercepted by Miami's Brent Grimes in the end zone.
The play came on first down from the Dolphins' 34-yard line and wiped out a drive that started at the Colts' own 39. Luck said he should have gone to Whalen on a checkdown instead of throwing the ball up for grabs.
Wayne took the blame himself.
"(Grimes) made a good play," the veteran wide receiver said. "I got to be a better defender. I got to keep him from intercepting that ball."
Miami grabbed the lead for good with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter when tight end Charles Clay bulled into the end zone from 1-yard out on the first carry of his NFL career.
The touchdown proved to be the final lead change in a game that was much wilder than its 14-3 start might have suggested.
Led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who finished 23-of-34 for 319 yards with one touchdown and no picks, the Dolphins scored on each of their first two possessions. The first touchdown came on an 18-yard screen pass to Mike Wallace — who finished with nine catches for 115 yards — and the second came on a 10-yard run by Lamar Miller.
The Colts squeezed a 30-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri — who earlier hit the upright from 52 yards — in between and ended the first quarter trailing by 11.
"This team is going to fight," Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said. "We know that. We know that they're going to play for 60 minutes, and it doesn't matter what the score is, what the situation is. They're going to play for 60 minutes."
Indianapolis began its rally with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Luck to Fleener less than two minutes into the second quarter. The Colts took the lead for the first time with 1:26 left in the half when Ahmad Bradshaw capped a six-play, 78-yard drive with a 1-yard run.
Miami tied it just before halftime with a 54-yard field goal by rookie Caleb Sturgis.
Tannehill's lone mistake — a fumble forced during a sack by Jerrell Freeman — set the Colts up at the Dolphins' 39-yard line early in the third quarter. Luck appeared to find Fleener for another touchdown, but the play was called back because of an illegal shift penalty.
Indianapolis settled instead for a 38-yard Vinatieri field goal with 11:35 left in the quarter, then lost the lead for good less than seven minutes later.
Luck finished 25-of-43 for 321 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and Hilton had a career-high 124 receiving yards on six catches.
But the only numbers that mattered where on the scoreboard.
"The only thing that this does is prove that we are not going undefeated," Wayne said. "It's a marathon, not a sprint. So hopefully we can look at this film, correct our mistakes and remember this bitter taste that we have and hopefully we can turn this thing around."