INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts on Sunday fell to the Arizona Cardinals, 16-13, in overtime in their 2017 regular season home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts after falling to 0-2 on the year?
The Colts had a bad taste in their mouths after opening the season last week with a 46-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in a game in which pretty much nothing went right. On offense, the Colts had three turnovers, each of which directly led to scores for the Rams' defense (two pick-sixes and a safety); on defense, second-year quarterback Jared Goff had his way the entire afternoon; and on special teams, Adam Vinatieri missed both a field goal and an extra point.
So the goal on Sunday for the Colts was to come out, in front of their home fans, and show that their Week 1 performance was nothing short of an anomaly all-around.
The final result was a 16-13 loss in overtime, as the Colts started the game fast, showed some obvious improvements at other junctures, but ultimately saw the Cardinals make the plays they needed to down the stretch to escape with the road victory.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano acknowledged after the game that while there are no moral victories in the NFL, he is very much encouraged by the play of his team and the way it bounced back after all of its struggles in Week 1.
But the best teams figure out a way to finish off their opponents, and that's the next box to check for this Colts team heading into Week 3.
Fifteen days. That's how much time has passed since the Colts acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett in a trade with the New England Patriots. And in those 15 days, Brissett has gone from the team's backup quarterback of the future to its starter holding down the fort until Andrew Luck is able to return.
Brissett, who came on in relief of then-starter Scott Tolzien in the fourth quarter of last week's game, got the start for the Colts this time around against the Cardinals, and despite the fact that he's still learning the entire team playbook, he looked especially sharp on Indy's opening drive. After the Colts' defense forced a three-and-out, Brissett led the offense on a 14-play, 53-yard drive that culminated in a Frank Gore five-yard touchdown run to put the Colts up 7-0 with 7:42 left in the first quarter.
The key for the Colts' offense on that initial drive was its ability to move the chains. Last week, Indy went 0-for-10 on third downs; but on its first drive Sunday, the Colts converted 3-of-4 third-down opportunities, including a 3rd and 12 in which Brissett found wide receiver Kamar Aiken for a 14-yard reception.
While that would be Indianapolis' only touchdown-scoring drive of the afternoon, it showed an immediate improvement in many aspects from the previous game right off the bat, and is a clear indication that getting off to a fast start is, indeed, possible.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Pagano and defensive coordinator Ted Monachino raved this past week about Malik Hooker's natural abilities at the safety position.
We saw just why in late in the first half of Sunday's game.
Up a touchdown, 10-3, the Cardinals were driving and in good position to put up some more points heading into halftime. On 1st and 10 from the Indianapolis 26-yard line, veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, lined up in the shotgun formation, dropped back and fired a pass close to the end zone towards wide receiver J.J. Nelson.
But Hooker read the play all the way, and came storming in from his free safety position to pick off the overthrown pass and return it 32 yards to the Indianapolis 35-yard line.
It's the first of what several believe will be many interceptions for Hooker, who was one of the top playmaking safeties coming out of college football this year, and was picked 16th overall by the Colts in this year's NFL Draft.
John Simon was a menace all day for the Colts' defense on Sunday.
First, there's the plays that you remember: most notably, on just the second snap of the game for the Cardinals, Simon brought down Palmer for a sack and a loss of seven yards.
But then there's the plays that don't necessarily stand out at first, like his three quarterback pressures on the afternoon.
They all resulted in a solid day for the outside linebacker, who had five total tackles, including one for a loss, and was constantly forcing plays in other directions for his teammates to pick up.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• The aforementioned quick start was just what the doctor ordered for the Colts after last week's loss to the Rams. All three phases contributed, whether it was the field position game, the swarming defense or Brissett moving the offense down the field.
• Tight end Jack Doyle became Brissett's favorite target throughout the afternoon, as he caught all eight passes thrown his way for a career-best 79 yards. Doyle was also a key part to the Colts' improvement on third down on Sunday, as he fought for the extra yards needed to move the chains on multiple occasions.
• Speaking of third downs, the Colts on Sunday converted 8-of-18 of them for a 44-percent clip. That's one week after going 0-for-10 on third downs. While the team had some struggles on third downs late in the game — the offense twice had a chance to move the ball down the field for a potential game-winning score in the final 3:28 — the improvements are certainly a welcome sight.
• The Colts' defense held tough on two goal-to-goal situations for the Cardinals in the first half. First, Arizona elected to go for it on 4th and Goal from the Indy 1-yard line with 13:05 left in the second quarter when Palmer's fade to Larry Fitzgerald was broken up by Rashaan Melvin. Then, around the six-minute mark of the second quarter, the Cardinals faced a 2nd and Goal from the 9 when it appeared Palmer connected with Nelson, who showed nice agility to get one, and then two feet in-bounds in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. But a replay showed his second foot was half on the end line, so it was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass and no touchdown. Arizona would get a field goal two plays later to cut Indy's lead to 10-3, but the damage certainly could've been much worse.
• The Cardinals ran the ball 25 times for 83 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per carry. Through two games, the Colts' opponents have ran the ball 58 times for 146 yards. That's an average of 2.5 yards per carry.
• Rigoberto Sanchez had himself a solid day punting the ball, as he had seven kicks for 303 yards, an average of 43.3, and three of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line. It was a second straight solid performance to open the season for the Colts rookie.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• After that first drive, the Colts' offense never really seemed to find much of a rhythm, outside of a couple drives that ended in field goals. In all, the Colts had just 266 yards of total offense on the afternoon, averaging just 3.8 yards per play — compared to the Cardinals, who had 389 yards of offense and six yards per play.
• Indianapolis had just one penalty in the first half, which should belong in the "What Went Right" category. But the Colts would be called for seven accepted penalties in the second half, many of which were critical — a false start in a goal-to-go situation that killed a promising drive; a roughing-the-passer penalty that added 15 yards and set up the Cardinals' first touchdown on the very next play; a hit on a punt returner after he had called a fair catch.
• Brissett said he knew as soon as he released his final pass of the day that it was a mistake. After starting with the ball in overtime, Brissett's first pass of the drive was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu at the Indianapolis 36-yard line and returned to the 21, all-but sealing a game-winning field goal for the Cardinals. Brissett also had a couple other near-picks, and the team would have three fumbles on the day, none of which were lost, however.
• Like the Cardinals, the Colts didn't find much success running the ball. They had 76 yards rushing on 29 attempts, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
Pagano reported after the game that there were no immediate injuries to report for the Colts.WHAT'S NEXT
The Colts look to earn win No. 1 of the season next week, when they play host to the Cleveland Browns. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. on CBS. The Browns are 0-2 on the season, and fell on Sunday to the Baltimore Ravens, 24-10.