INDIANAPOLIS — Where to begin?
The dreadful defense, the odoriferous offense, or the spectacularly terrible special teams? Everyone in uniform could be blamed, except possibly the cheerleaders.
Or maybe the Indianapolis Colts would prefer to just forget the train wreck that was Sunday.
“We ain’t got time to dwell on it,” Chuck Pagano was saying after the St. Louis Rams had the Colts for Sunday brunch 38-8. “It is what it is, we got our butts kicked. And we’ve got to move on.”
He’s right, of course. Especially about the butt-kicking part. As Andrew Luck put it, “They beat us fair and square in every which way they probably could.” He was right on target, which is more than you can say for a lot of his passes Sunday.
The Colts are in Tennessee Thursday on pressing AFC South business, and they are hoping the Titans game can serve as lemonade to wash the taste out of their mouths. Sunday went down like a Listerine cocktail.
But it’s hard to look at this pummeling at home and not be a little curious about what it might mean. Are the injuries catching up to the Colts? Are all those fairy tale comebacks draining the emotional fuel tank? Was this a one-of-those-days aberration, or a genuine warning sign?
“We need to get back on the field and right our wrongs. Absolve our sins, if you will,” Luck said. It’s still mid-season, but that means crunch time is coming, when sins are not so easily atoned.
“Regardless of what happened, we know what we have,” Cory Redding said. “Our belief in one another has not wavered.”
Still, it is reasonable to be taken aback by the sheer tonnage of the futility — from Luck’s three interceptions, to 18 meager yards rushing, to a shredded defense, to special teams that were a Nightmare on Capitol Avenue. One of the day’s few robust cheers came when the scoreboard showed Pacers coach Frank Vogel, sitting in the stands with his family and probably hoping that whatever the Colts had this day wasn’t catching.
“We didn’t do anything, and I take full responsibility as the head football coach,” Pagano said. “Did not have this team ready to play.”
This is the law of the NFL jungle. Bring your B game — or in this case, your F — and you get run over. It doesn’t matter that the opponent is 3-6, or the other quarterback is a journeyman who grew up raising cattle, or the home crowd is supposed to help prevent such things.
So just where are the Colts? They’re still 6-3 and atop the AFC South, but after Sunday, it is natural to wonder.
You wonder if this could be a momentum killer after all those thrilling escapes. “I don’t know the answer to that question, honestly,” Coby Fleener said. “Hopefully we can use it to make us better, and not let it beat us down.”
You wonder if they have grown too reliant on an imaginary safety net that slovenly starts can always be cured by electrifying rallies. “You can’t survive your mistakes in the NFL forever,” Luck said
You wonder how they will respond to being humbled so. “We just have to sleep on this tonight,” T.Y. Hilton said. “There will be less sleep and a lot of film working.”
You wonder if the cost of games such as Sunday will be felt in January, if the Colts are having to pack their bags for a trip to hostile Denver or New England.
And you wonder how a team that has shown so much can come up with such a clunker.
“It’s never (not) competing. These guys are going to compete their ass off until the bitter end. We know that,” Pagano said. “Poor technique. Poor fundamentals and communications. That leads to disaster. That leads to 2-of-whatever (12) on third down. That leads to 1-for-5 in the red (zone). Minus-4 turnover margin. Go on, and on, and on.
“It’s a tough business. It’s not for the meek. It’s for grown men. Everybody in that locker room, coaches and players, have broad enough shoulders to handle it.”
They’ll need to. Starting Thursday.