INDIANAPOLIS–* *As exhilarating as last Sunday's home win was over Green Bay, it was just as sobering a setback on Sunday at MetLife Stadium as the Colts fell to the New York Jets, 35-9.
Indianapolis was playing its first road game since dropping a 41-21 decision at Chicago on September 9 to open the season. The team talked all week about playing well on the road, but it was not able to sustain an early lead in a game that got out of hand in the second half.
The Colts opened a 3-0 advantage after not capitalizing deep in New York territory on their second possession. Adam Vinatieri booted a 20-yard field goal after Indianapolis reached the Jets' two-yard line.
It was an issue that nagged the team throughout the day. Indianapolis snapped 27 plays in New York's end of the field on its 11 possessions, but was able only to add two more Vinatieri kicks of 47 and 50 yards.
"We stalled in the red zone," said quarterback Andrew Luck on Colts Radio, who hit 22-of 44 passes for 280 yards, while suffering two interceptions. "We struggled on third down early, and that continued in the second half. I played poorly. I'm sure other guys would say the same, not enough attention to detail and execution."
The first interception came after the initial field goal drive, and New York converted the takeaway into a second touchdown and an 11-point lead. Vinatieri's second field goal followed, but the Jets scored again just prior to the half to take a 21-6 lead the Colts never could threaten.
Indianapolis trailed last week at home to Green Bay after 30 minutes, 21-3, then staged a compelling second-half comeback.
New York and its rushing game kept the Colts from a repeat performance. After netting 106 rushing yards in the opening half, 91 by Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight burst 61 yards late in the third quarter to get the Jets going again. New York out-rushed Indianapolis on the day, 252-41.
Greene finished with 161 yards on 32 carries. The Jets rushed for 14 of their 22 first downs, while controlling the ball for 33:40 of the contest.
The Colts entered the game on fragile ground health-wise. Linebackers Robert Mathis and Pat Angerer were absent, along with starters such as running back Donald Brown, guard Joe Reitz and defensive tackle Fili Moala. Defensive end Cory Redding missed large parts of the game with an injury, and the club fought the best it could under those circumstances.
Offensively, Indianapolis started four rookies and while Luck and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have opened each game, Vick Ballard had his first start in place of Brown. He rushed for 25 yards on eight carries, but the tilted scoreboard kept the club from the offensive balance it has sought.
"We'll go back and watch the film, see what we did wrong and correct it," said Luck. "That's what we'll have to do and get ready for next week. You realize when you're in the red zone, you need points, on the second drive get a touchdown not a field goal. There's a lot to learn."
Allen and Fleener were targeted on 10 of Luck's 44 attempts, and the duo combined for six receptions. Allen and Fleener represent what will be a large story for Indianapolis all season. They are two young faces who will be thrust into large roles as the team builds its future.
It has been an emotional start to the season with Head Coach Chuck Pagano being away from the team while he is ill. Still, Allen was quick to point out the team will take ownership of a day where it did not play as well as it had wished.
"You have to come to work every day," said Allen. "It's disappointing to have what some people call an emotional letdown in this game. The fact of the matter is New York just came out and played better, played harder than us in every phase.
"Offensively, we can't wait until the second half. Offensively, we can't trade field goals for touchdowns when we have multiple opportunities to put the ball in (the end zone). We have to capitalize on those early opportunities because those could be the change in the game. If we scored a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal and the defense got the ball back…the sky is the limit on how this game could have turned out. It is what it is. We have to capitalize when we get the opportunity."
In the Chicago opener, Indianapolis suffered five turnovers and had a minus-four takeaway-giveaway ratio. Sunday at New York, Indianapolis did not wrestle the ball from the Jets once, and it lost two fumbles in addition to the interceptions.
A minus-eight turnover ratio in two road games will be an area addressed this week by the coaching staff.
"We're professionals. Our mindset was to win that game," said Allen. "We understand that we didn't play the best we could have. We're learning to be professionals and to play at a high level week in and week out.
"It was definitely a lack of execution. Whatever it is, it only happens on the road. Hopefully I don't jinx myself, but I believe we'll get back to work, correct our mistakes and perform at our best level next week at home against the Browns."