INDIANAPOLIS — Russell Wilson was doing Russell Wilson things throughout the first two quarters of Sunday's 2021 season opener between the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium.
By the halftime break, Wilson had completed 9-of-11 passes for 166 yards with three touchdowns — good enough for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. It seemed as if every time Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus dialed up the pressure with a heavy blitz call, Wilson — as he's been doing now for 10 seasons — was somehow able to escape at the very last second to deliver a dagger.
The Colts trailed 21-10 at halftime, knowing they needed to do something to slow Wilson & Co. down to give their offense a chance to catch up on their end.
Whatever message Eberflus delivered in the locker room clearly made its mark from there for the Indy defense.
The Colts forced a punt on the Seahawks' opening possession of the second half. Their second possession met the same fate after defensive tackle DeForest Buckner bullied his way into Wilson's face on third down, earning his first sack of the season.
On the second play of Seattle's following possession, it was another All-Pro Colts defender, linebacker Darius Leonard, who punched the ball from the grip of running back Chris Carson, which was recovered by rookie defensive end Kwity Paye at the Indianapolis 45-yard line.
Still trailing by 11 heading into the fourth quarter, it appeared things were finally going the Colts' way.
This time, however, the Indy offense was unable to seize the momentum. The Colts went three-and-out on their first two possessions of the second half. Their third possession ended when they lost a fumble on a botched exchange between center Ryan Kelly and quarterback Carson Wentz on a 4th-and-1 try from the Seattle 31, which was recovered by the Seahawks. Their fourth possession of the second half ended with Wentz being sacked for a loss of nine on 4th and 2 from the Seattle 18-yard line.
Seven plays later, Wilson would take advantage of the short field by finding wide receiver DK Metcalf for a 15-yard touchdown pass, extending the Seahawks' lead to 28-10 with 6:45 left. Indy would respond on its end with a Wentz touchdown pass to Zach Pascal — his second touchdown reception of the day — but it wouldn't be enough, as the Colts dropped their 2021 season opener to the Seahawks, 28-16.
"Obviously in the second half they played lights out," Colts head coach Frank Reich said when asked to evaluate the play of his defense on Sunday. "They made some adjustments. I don't know everything that they did to all of a sudden slow them down as much as we did, but they did a good job. Really, in the first half, Russell Wilson is going to make plays, that's what he does. He's been doing that for a long time."
In the first half on Sunday, the Colts allowed 9.9 yards per play, including 11 first downs, an 80-percent success rate on third down, three explosive run plays (10-plus yards) and four explosive pass plays (15-plus yards). Wilson was 2-for-2 on attempts of 20-of-more yards, and while he was pressured 10 times, he was hit and sacked just once in the first two quarters.
The numbers bear out the Colts' defense's second-half improvement on Sunday. In the third and fourth quarters, the Seahawks averaged just 4.6 yards per play, had seven first downs, did not convert a single third down, had zero explosive run plays and two explosive passing plays. Wilson was 1-of-3 on pass attempts of 20 or more yards, and was pressured six times, two of which resulting in sacks.
But while those stats might seem promising at first glance, only one number matters to Leonard and his defensive teammates — did you go 1-0 on the day? The Colts were unable to achieve that goal on Sunday.
"We got our a** kicked," Leonard said, matter-of-factly. "Especially in the first half, we didn't do enough, and then in the second half we made some adjustments. We kind of got it going, but we didn't have enough takeaways. If you want to win football games, you have to take the ball away, and we only had one. We have to make sure that we get more takeaways. They had two turnovers. If you count the fourth downs, there are takeaways there, so we have to be better there."
The road for the Indy defense doesn't get any easier from here. On Sunday the Colts play host to the Los Angeles Rams, who dropped 34 points on the Chicago Bears Sunday in their 2021 season-opening home victory. New L.A. quarterback Matthew Stafford carved up the Chicago defense to the tune of 20-of-26 passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns to no picks for a 156.1 QB rating.
For the Colts, starting and ending fast on defense will be of paramount importance in this one.
"I mean, that was our whole 2020 season — it was a tale of two halves pretty much each game, but it's not going to always be how we want it. They're not going to give it to us. We have to go take it," said cornerback Kenny Moore II, who finished Sunday's game with three tackles (one for a loss) and a sack. "We just have to stay on our key adjustments that we made. That was great for us going forward, so we just have to take advantage of that."
See all the action on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts take on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 of the 2021 regular season.