INDIANAPOLIS –A truism in sports is to take something positive from every performance, no matter how that performance went.
On Saturday at Washington, Indianapolis absorbed a 30-17 loss to the Redskins where they were out-rushed by nearly 100 yards and played catch-up ball most of the afternoon.
After Indianapolis knotted the game at seven with both teams employing starting units, Washington eventually moved into a 23-7 lead which the Colts could not overcome.
As planned, Head Coach Chuck Pagano used his first team into the third quarter, a total of five possessions for an offense that will have a number of new faces in 2012.
Two of the five offensive linemen at Washington – Samson Satele and Winston Justice – were not with the team last year, while a third, Seth Olsen, saw only limited duty. Rookies started at quarterback and both tight end positions, while a veteran receiver was making his initial appearance in a Colts uniform.
Fits happened – two sacks, a penalty that backed up a possession. Other problems compounded the issue when not one of those five possessions originated outside the Indianapolis 21-yard line.
Still, an 80-yard scoring drive was accomplished, and rookie tight end Dwayne Allen thought the team worked through adverse conditions.
"Any time you battle through adversity, it's a plus. Did we win the game? No. It seems like a lot of little things went against us…this and that," said Allen. "It started raining…We were able to get out there and battle through it and have a 12-play, 80-yard drive. That's the positive out of the game. Do we need to work better and practice to get the running game going? Of course.
They do have a talented defensive line.
"Going forward, we battled adversity and were able to get that drive in there. We did not run it as well as we wish we could have, definitely. Whenever the opposing team rushes for 150 yards and we only rush for 53, it's not a good day. Putting the other team aside, we need to rush better. The offensive line, the tight ends, the backs, we're not doing our jobs to gain yards on the ground."
Washington gained 101 of its 147 rushing yards in the first half against a Colts defense that was minus starters Robert Mathis, Pat Angerer and Cory Redding, while Jerraud Powers and Brandon McKinney made early exits with injuries.
Quarterback Andrew Luck was leveled twice before he guided an efficient 80-yard drive that ended with a 31-yard touchdown pass to rookie T.Y. Hilton, a third-down masterpiece. Luck was able to slide to his right on the play to buy time in a busy pocket before hitting Hilton behind the cornerback.
Luck was nimble enough to work in the pocket a few times. On other occasions, the offense had to contend with a rowdy environment, the second straight week the team has played in a spirited road venue (Pittsburgh last Sunday).
Allen knows one thing that must happen is to protect Luck better at all costs, and the club has to learn to function better on the road.
"The importance of not shooting ourselves in the foot, especially on the road," said Allen of things the Colts will take from this game. "Coming into a hostile environment, Washington fans were loud and we had to operate a little bit on the silent count. We didn't do a good enough job of protecting our quarterback, and that should be our first priority – protect the quarterback so he can do the things necessary to get us down the field."
Luck was 14-of-23 for 151 yards and one touchdown, while rushing twice for eight yards. He showed his resilient side for the second straight week when trouble struck. Last week at Pittsburgh, he answered two interceptions with two touchdowns. This week, he answered two sacks and pressure from Washington by standing firm. Allen noticed.
"After being sacked a couple of times early on from my experience just watching rookie quarterbacks, they usually get antsy in the pocket. They don't want to stand in there as much," said Allen. "Andrew did not look like he was fazed by the pressure. He was still able to stand in there and find guys down the field."
Luck hit Hilton four times for 54 yards in the opening half. Over the same span, he connected with veteran Donnie Avery four times for 23 yards, never really having the chance to stretch the defense. The completions, however, were instrumental in moving the chains. Indianapolis was able to convert seven-of-11 third-down attempts with its starting offense. Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne was targeted six times by Luck, snaring three passes for 41 yards.
For the second straight week, Indianapolis had a two-minute possession to end the half. Last week at Pittsburgh, Luck guided the club 31 yards for a field goal at the gun. On Saturday, Luck moved the Colts again, gaining possession at his 20 with 1:09 on the clock and three times out at his disposal. He hit three completions and ran for six yards before firing three incompletions from the Washington 43.
Allen is a mature rookie who had an outstanding career at Clemson. The Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end, he is not happy with the chance to compete. He is driven to compete well. He also knows the team is young and will learn from every outing.
"We will (mature)," said Allen. "Our job is to get better each week. Did we play as well as last week? No, but I feel like we got better in some areas. Getting this experience is only going to pay dividends down the road."