Five Things Learned: Colts-Chargers (2019, Week 1)

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts fell to 0-1 on the season Sunday with their 30-24 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.

The Colts (0-1) fell behind by as many as 15 points midway through the third quarter before clawing their way back, eventually tying the game at 24 on a late 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and ensuing two-point run by Marlon Mack.

But the Chargers (1-0) would get the last laugh, winning the overtime coin toss and driving 75 yards in eight plays, as Austin Ekeler punched in the game-winning touchdown on a seven-yard run to give Indy its sixth straight season-opening loss.

“That was tough,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “When you go on the road against a team who’s 12-4 last year, a very good team with an elite quarterback — and they made the plays they needed to make to win. I give them credit. They’re a very well-coached team; Anthony Lynn, I think the world of him. And I think that’s a good football team, and they played well, and they deserved to win. It’s hard to say — but they deserved to win.”

Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday’s loss to the Chargers:

» HOLY MACK-EREL: Reich issued a clear challenge to his offense at the start of this year’s offseason workout program: he wanted a top-seven — or even a top-five — rushing attack by season’s end. Last year, the Colts had some quality rushing performances, but inconsistencies led to a ranking of 21st in the league. The Indy offense got off to an ideal start with this initiative Sunday against the Chargers, as the Colts racked up 203 rushing yards, led by a career-best 174 yards and a touchdown from third-year back Marlon Mack. Mack’s performance is the 11th-most rushing yards in a single game in Colts franchise history — and the ninth-most since 1960 — and are the most since Edgerrin James rushed for 204 yards against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 21, 2004. Mack was sure to credit his offensive line after the game. “I mean, most of the time I wasn’t even getting touched until the second level,” Mack said. “The guys created such great holes for me, so all I had to do was just take care of the rest and get my job done.” (READ MORE: Marlon Mack Racks Up Career Day In Colts' OT Loss To Chargers)

» ’TOUGH DAY:’ While the Colts were able to come all the way back to force overtime, a few key miscues makes this season-opening loss even more of a bitter pill to swallow — particularly on special teams. The Chargers opened the game with a 43-yard kickoff return (but didn’t turn it into points), and then benefitted from a Colts personal foul penalty on a field goal attempt to get a first down and turn it into a touchdown two plays later. The most visible of issues for Indy on Sunday, though, was an uncharacteristically rough performance from Adam Vinatieri, who missed two field goals and also an extra-point attempt. While the Colts left seven points off their end of the scoreboard and aided the Chargers in adding four points to their tally with those miscues, Reich is standing behind his players — particularly a guy like Vinatieri. “You know, it was a tough day, but he’s the one guy I’m not worried about right here,” Reich said. “We have the greatest kicker of all-time. And he didn’t have a good day. But there were a lot of guys who didn’t have a good (day) — we all own it. We all own what we put out there. And that’s what we talked about in (the locker room), that in every phase we’re going to look at it and say we all missed a play or two that cost us. And that’s just the way it is when you go against a good football team.” (READ MORE: Miscues At All Three Levels Cost Colts in Season Opener)

» BRISSETT SHINES: Making his first start since the 2017 season, Brissett put in a solid performance for the Colts, completing 21-of-27 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 77.8 completion percentage and 120.7 passer rating are the second-best totals of his career in a single game, and his two touchdown passes also tied a single-game career-best. But Reich was most impressed with the way Brissett handled the eventual game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, as he marched the Colts 80 yards down the field in 16 plays and completing four of five passes for 39 yards during that span, including the 19-yard touchdown to HIlton, who stepped out of an initial tackle and snuck down the left sideline for the score. “He was in complete control,” Reich said of Brissett. “He was poised, he knew what he wanted when there were discussions on the sideline about, ‘Hey, this or that,’ he knew what he wanted and he made it work. So that was a good start for Jacoby.” (READ MORE: Jacoby Brissett Shows Poise In 2019 Debut)

» SWARMING RIVERS: The Colts’ defense entered the offseason wanting to see a more consistent pass rush, and if Sunday’s game is any indication, Indy is well on its way to accomplishing that goal. The Colts logged four sacks and eight hits of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on the day, generating pressure from both the edge and from within. Second-year defensive end Kemoko Turay led the charge with a sack and a forced fumble, and he should’ve had a second strip sack if not for an offsides call on another defender. Veteran Justin Houston also had a solid Colts debut with a sack and several hurries, while Al-Quadin Muhammad (one sack) and Ben Banogu and Denico Autry (a half-sack each) also got in on the pressure party. “Oh, we fed off that a lot,” said safety Malik Hooker, who had a critical one-handed interception in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter that set up the eventual game-tying drive. “That gives us a chance to make more plays on the ball. When the D-line’s rushing like that — you know, putting pressure on the quarterback — that makes them to get it out early, and gives us on the back end more of a chance to get interceptions or better coverage on defense because we know we’re only covering so long when they’re getting off like that.”

» NOTES OF INTEREST:

Mack rushed for 124 yards in the third quarter, which is the highest rushing total for a member of the Colts in the third quarter of a game dating back to at least 2004 (Edgerrin James, 94 vs. Chicago on Nov. 21).

— With his first catch of the game, Hilton extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one reception to 63, which passed Jessie Hester (62) for the fifth-longest streak in team history. With his two receiving touchdowns, Hilton passed Jim Mutscheller (40) for the seventh-most in franchise history.

— Vinatieri, who also converted a field goal and an extra point on Sunday, has now kicked in 47 different NFL stadiums, which ranks tied for fifth with Matt Stover in NFL history (John Carney 49, John Kasay 49, Morten Andersen 48).

See all the best action on the field as the Indianapolis Colts open their season at Dignity Health Sports Park against the Los Angeles Chargers.

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