INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts opened up the 2018 regular season on Sunday with a 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Making his official debut as the Colts' head coach, Frank Reich said he thought he saw plenty of positives throughout the team's first game of the season, but the fact the team blew a double-digit third quarter lead — allowing a 24-0 Bengals run over the final quarter and a half — really stings.
"Tough loss today," Reich told reporters after the game. "Tough one to swallow. … We know (we've) got to clean things up."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's game against the Bengals:
• LUCK'S RETURN: Andrew Luck on Sunday took the field for a Colts regular season game for the first time in 616 days, and showed no signs of rust whatsoever stemming from the shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2017 season. In fact, Luck had one of the more active games of his career on Sunday, as his 39 completions was the most he's ever had in one game, while he had 53 total attempts (73.6 percent) with 319 yards and two touchdowns to one interception for a 93.2 rating. He also took on a couple big hits (one of which resulted in the ejection of a Cincinnati defender for an egregious helmet-to-helmet strike). "I just felt grateful and appreciative to be here," Luck said after the game. "That may sound a little cheesy, but I was so excited to get to run on the field as a Colt and to get to play with T.Y. (Hilton), and Jack (Doyle), and Vinny (Adam Vinatieri) and the new guys. It was fun. And then the game got going and you're in the game and it's one play at a time."
• ROUGH ENDING: One of the major themes for the Colts last season was their inability to protect second-half leads. When Reich was hired, he immediately began touting the need for a team that has an "obsession to finish." That's still a work in progress, however, as the Colts on Sunday had some of the same troubles over the final 22 minutes of the game that haunted them throughout the 2017 season. A five-yard touchdown pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton gave the Colts a 23-10 lead midway through the third quarter, but from there, a multitude of issues by the home team helped the Bengals go on a 24-0 run the rest of the way to escape with an elusive road victory. The blame can be spread all-around, both offensively and defensively, but what's important for the Colts is that they learn from those second-half mistakes and start to learn how to finish games this time around.
• WELCOME TO THE NFL: As expected, the Colts had several youngsters making their NFL debuts on Monday — many of whom played major roles throughout the contest. In all, 11 players ended up making their NFL debuts for the Colts against the Bengals: Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, Nyheim Hines, Darius Leonard, Skai Moore, Quenton Nelson, George Odum, Zach Pascal, Braden Smith, Kemoko Turay and Jordan Wilkins. Five of those players — Leonard, Moore, Nelson, Smith and Wilkins — also earned their first NFL starts. "There's a lot we can build on," Turay said after the game. "We have a lot of talented players, especially the rookies that came out this year. We just have to learn how to work together more and keep working because today was good, a stepping point for us. We have to watch film and build off that."
• HUNT'S REVENGE: Margus Hunt was a second-round pick by the Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft, and while he developed into a kick-blocking machine on special teams during his time in Cincinnati, he never really worked his way into the rotation on defense. He signed with the Colts last season and would end up filling in admirably for an injured Henry Anderson at defensive end for a good chunk of the season, and took that momentum into training camp and the preseason this year, where he would earn a starting job at defensive end for the Colts heading into the regular season. Hunt was a monster on Sunday against his former team; heading into the game with 2.5 career sacks, Hunt logged two sacks alone against the Bengals, while also adding another tackle for loss. That kind of production and pressure is critical for Indy defense and its new 4-3 base scheme, so perhaps Hunt is starting to find his niche.
• NOTES OF INTEREST:
—The Colts converted 65 percent of their attempts on third down, the highest rate since 11/4/2012.
— Luck has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 24 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL.
— Tight end Jack Doyle had 60 yards receiving, moving him into eighth all-time in Colts history for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,543 yards.
— With his third field goal of the day, Adam Vinatieri hit his 40th career field goal from 50 yards or more. It moves him into a tie with Morten Andersen for sixth all-time for field goals made from 50 yards or more.