INDIANAPOLIS –Sunday at Chicago was a difficult day for a young Indianapolis Colts squad.
Playing in a historic venue against one of the league's most aggressive teams, and one that is underrated offensively, the Colts fell behind by seven, then 10, then 20 points on the way to a 41-21 setback.
There were seven offensive players making a league debut, along with a handful on defense, too. The majority of the roster was new to the team, as was Head Coach Chuck Pagano.
It was a bitter defeat with the team struggling to find a rhythm initially offensively, and one of the defensive stalwarts, Dwight Freeney, limped off after eight plays.
Chicago scored 17 straight points, survived a late first-half Indianapolis push, then scored 10 quick points to open a 34-14 lead early in the second half. It was a deficit from which the Colts never really could threaten seriously.
No coach wants to see his team miss opportunities, turn the ball over, allow nine plays exceeding 20 yards and not set the edge defensively against the rush.
How to handle the situation? Pagano chose to be vocal, but only in a reassuring fashion.
"It's pretty easy to see once you break it down, you put the stats up, and you go back and look at the areas that you always talk about – running the football, stopping the run, third down, red zone, two-minute, turnovers, all of the things that played major factors, all the situational stuff. We can play a whole lot better in all those areas," said Pagano. "You just lay the facts out. It's certainly not a time to go in there and beat anybody up. You go in there and you point out, 'Here's what we've got to do in these areas to get better.'
Point one for Pagano was ball security. After the club opened the game with a scoring interception return, it proceeded to have three interceptions and two fumbles on the way to a minus-four ratio. Turnovers can be the "granddaddy" of all statistics in determining a game's outcome and though the defense rallied to allow only six points off the miscues, no miscues at all is the target.
"It all starts with taking care of the football. You go back to turnovers, if you're minus-four, it's going to be hard to beat anybody, especially at this level," said Pagano. "We've got enough veteran leadership in there. I know we've got a lot of young guys, but we've got a lot of young guys that understand what the expectations are. For us to start riding this rollercoaster (is pointless)."
Indianapolis entered Kickoff Weekend with eight rookies and six first-year players. There were nine new offensive starters than who appeared in last year's opener, as well as five fresh defensive starters, and all were performing in new schemes that have been installed this year.
Pagano is not a coach to look for excuses, nor are the players the types to offer them either. Pagano chose to point out one game does not make a season.
"What I told them (Monday), I said, 'Who won the Super Bowl last year?' They all start scratching their heads," said Pagano. "I said, 'It was the Giants, right?' And they said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'What's their record now? Same as ours, right?' I said, 'Fourteen games into the season, a year ago, what was their record? 7-7. What was Green Bay's record at the end of the year? They went 15-1. Pretty good season, right?'
"The key was they made it to the tournament. That's our goal – get in the tournament, catch fire and see what happens. So 15-1, they make the tournament, but the Giants happened to catch fire and beat them in the first round and knock them out. It's certainly not how you start, it's how you finish."
Linebacker Jerry Hughes was one of the young players who did not start the game, but he came in as Freeney's replacement early in the process. Hughes took in the message.
"He (Pagano) just briefly went into a simple explanation of how the Giants were 0-1 to kick the season off and we're 0-1 to kick the season off," said Hughes. "I think they went on a stretch and started putting some games together, started winning and next thing you know, they're in the Super Bowl winning the whole thing.
"It's just Week One and no one needs to panic yet. Just put our noses down, come to work and keep working hard."
Pagano knows the corrections involve techniques and execution. It has nothing to do with a problem any deeper than that.
"We said going in we were going to play 60 minutes in every football game. That's the one thing we've never had to coach around here – effort," said Pagano. "We're going to play hard, we just have to play smarter. We have to clean up things we can clean up and control. … We have to do a much better job.
"I always talk about the enemy. The enemy isn't necessarily always your opponent. We certainly can do a better job of avoiding bad plays. We just have to play better."
Linebacker Robert Mathis had two sacks in the game, yet he noted that sacks mean more and feel better when a victory is attached to it. Mathis endured the hardship of a 2-14 record in 2011. That record means nothing in 2012, and he wants to keep things in perspective as the club prepares for its sold out home opener this Sunday against Minnesota.
"It's a marathon," said Mathis. "Don't jump off the boat too quickly. We'll get it together."
ROSTER MOVES - The Colts signed center A.Q. Shipley to the practice squad. Wide receiver Kashif Moore was waived from the practice squad.