INDIANAPOLIS –Sunday was the first day of an NFL life with Indianapolis for many members of the Colts.
The Colts marched into Chicago possessing 17 new coaches and 30 new players and dropped a 41-21 decision to the Bears in Soldier Field.
The Colts are under the direction of Head Coach Chuck Pagano, and his team features eight rookies and six first-year players, many of whom saw their first league action in the opener.
The Colts got off to a promising start when first-year linebacker Jerrell Freeman scored on an interception return less than four minutes into the game.
Chicago scored 17 straight points after its miscue to move into a 10-point lead just past the mid-point of the second quarter.
With an offense featuring eight performers who were seeing first career action, the Colts were uneven at times moving the ball. The unit found a stride late in the half when running back Donald Brown peeled off two 18-yard runs, including a touchdown burst.
Brown's score cut the Indianapolis deficit to 17-14, but the Colts could get no closer the rest of the way.
Rookie Andrew Luck was 23-of-45 for 309 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. He faced an aggressive Chicago defense that hurried the passing pocket, and Luck was leveled three times during the course of the game.
Chicago's offense had nine plays that gained 20 or more yards, while quarterback Jay Cutler was 21-of-35 for 333 yards and two touchdowns. Cutler was 15-of-27 for 228 yards in the opening half, putting the Colts in a bit of a catch-up mode. For the day, Indianapolis rushed the ball 15 times in 63 offensive plays.
A bright spot for the Colts was rookie tight end Coby Fleener, who had six receptions for 82 yards, including catches of 24, 22 and 22 yards. It was his first career action after seeing playing time in four preseason games.
"It's nice to get the game behind you. I had some jitters," said Fleener on Colts Radio. "I'm a rookie and don't know what to expect. You can't really replicate a game until you're in it. From that perspective, I'd say it's good to have this one behind us and move onto the next one.
"I think guys have an extra gear when it comes to the regular season. The games really count. There's something special about the regular season."
Leading into the game, Pagano stressed the need for red zone production. It was an area of success when Brown scored and Luck teamed with receiver Donnie Avery for a four-yard score in the fourth quarter. Indianapolis missed a half-ending field goal from 37 yards and had another pass intercepted in the Chicago end zone in missing out on two other opportunities.
"There are a lot of things that need to be worked on," said Fleener. "It's nice to have something go off now. We'll watch the tape, and I think we will learn a lot going into our second game."
Fleener was on the field the majority of the time for the Colts. He was one of seven receivers with whom Luck connected, and he produced one of the better rookie opening-day performances in recent Colts history. Fleener, however, cited teammates for whatever he was able to accomplish.
"I think you can credit the offensive line for giving Andrew time, the other receivers for taking the pressure off of me and Andrew putting the ball where it needed to be," said Fleener. "It's one of those things where sometimes your number gets called and you have to make a play. Unfortunately we left some yardage on the field. We need to look at tape and clean a lot of stuff up."
The Colts were playing in one of the tougher road venues in the league and were facing an aggressive defensive unit that featured past Pro Bowlers. The talent of the Chicago defense registered with Fleener, as did the need for the offense to function more smoothly.
"They were tough. It was a great defense to go against the start the season. It's something definitely to build on," said Fleener. "I think quite a bit (of the offensive struggles) was us shooting ourselves in the foot. Once we get that cleaned up, I think we'll be a much-improved team. We have to go back to basics and take a look at the film first."
Fleener was a big contributor to a Stanford program the earned multiple BCS bowl appearances and forged about 30 wins over the past three seasons. He is conditioned to success and says firmly there is no substitute for victory.
"The first thing is there are no real moral victories for the Colts' organization," said Fleener. "It's one of those things where we want to win every game, not try to find positives in losing. We want to win, period."
Pagano saw his offense produce seven plays exceeding 20 yards, but the defense yielded bit more such plays to Chicago.
"We're going to go back and look at the tape and find all the things we need to correct. It is a marathon," said Pagano. "It isn't a sprint by any stretch of the imagination. We know we have a long way to go.
"That was a really good football team that we played today. Give some credit to them. I have to do a better job of preparing this football team."