By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The dam finally burst Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
After weeks of slow starts that somehow never quite spilled over into defeat, the Indianapolis Colts (6-3) found a current they couldn't outswim and survive.
The St. Louis Rams (4-6) scored 35 points in the first 32 minutes and washed Indianapolis' modest two-game winning streak away with a shocking 38-8 victory.
"Credit the Rams and their coaching staff and their players, they came to play," a visibly frustrated Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said in the postgame interview room. "They beat us in every single phase ... we just didn't do anything. And I take full responsibility as the head football coach, did not have this team ready to play."
St. Louis rookie Tavon Austin certainly was well-prepared.
The eighth overall pick in April's draft was approaching bust status with 31 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns through the first nine games of the season. Turns out the Colts' defense was just what he needed to get on track.
Austin got things rolling with a 98-yard punt return and a 57-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to help the Rams open a 28-0 halftime lead. Then he slammed the door shut with an 81-yard catch and run for a score just more than a minute into the second half.
The touchdowns came on Austin's only two offensive touches. The first was on third-and-7, and the second was on third-and-9.
"They moved him around a lot, put him in mismatch situations, using his speed to run away from coverage and stuff," said cornerback Vontae Davis, who was badly beaten on the first touchdown pass. "They executed today better than we did."
That was a recurring theme in Indianapolis' postgame locker room. There was plenty of anger and frsutration over the Colts' own performance. But, to a man, Indianapolis was careful to credit St. Louis' role in its demise.
The big plays for the Rams started on the game's first possession.
Facing third-and-13 at St. Louis' 42-yard line, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was hit from behind by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and lost the grip on the football. Quinn's defensive line bookend, Chris Long, scooped up the football at Indianapolis' 45-yard line and returned it untouched for the game's first score.
"I had my lion's share of mistakes," said Luck, who also threw three interceptions — including two in the end zone — and was sacked three times. "Some of those sacks are my fault. Those errors are my fault as well. Very good front four (in St. Louis), good football team and they beat us. Not much else to really say about it. They beat us fair and square in every which way they probably could."
The Colts' early deficit could have been worse, but St. Louis botched a handoff at Indianapolis' 5-yard line and lost possession on a fumble with 2:05 remaining in the first quarter.
It didn't take long for the Rams to find their footing and rebound.
Rookie running back Zac Stacy scored on a 1-yard run just 30 seconds into the second quarter, and then Austin began his scoring barrage.
His first touchdown came on a remarkable play. Indianapolis safety Sergio Brown hustled down the field on punt coverage, batting the ball backward to keep it out of the end zone. Austin picked it up on the rebound and sprinted 98 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown.
"He has the chance to change games," St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said, "and we're just going to keep working to get him the football."
The Rams did so successfully for their next two scores. Quarterback Kellen Clemens — playing because of a season-ending injury to starter Sam Bradford — finished 9-of-16 for 247 yards, but it was the two touchdown passes to Austin that broke the Colts' back.
"We finally dug ourselves a hole that we couldn't dig out of," Indianapolis tight end Coby Fleener said. "And I think that was probably coming, based on what we have done in the past. So, hopefully, we can use this to learn from."
Some of the Colts' final numbers were deceiving. They outgained St. Louis 406-372 in total yards and had 21 first downs to the Rams' 12.
Luck was 29-of-47 for 353 yards, and T.Y. Hilton caught seven of those passes for 130 yards. But the Colts turned the ball over three times in the red zone, and only a 13-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter from Luck to running back Donald Brown and the ensuing 2-point conversion to Fleener got them on the scoreboard.
It's a short week with Indianapolis traveling to Tennessee (4-5) on Thursday night. The Titans will be in a foul mood of their own after being on the wrong end of a 29-27 decision against Jacksonville (1-8) on Sunday.
"You want to get back out there and get that taste out of your mouth," Luck said. "We'll prepare. The short weeks are always interesting. I think I learned that last year. We need to get back on the field and right our wrongs. Absolve our sins, if you will."