The Indianapolis Colts’ defense was supposed to be eviscerated by the Tennessee Titans’ running game.
The Colts’ offense was supposed to be unable to move against arguably the best defense in the NFL.
Those predictions didn’t pan out Monday night.
And now that we’ve dispensed with the only bright spots of the Colts’ 31-21 loss, let’s examine the ramifications of another dismal game for the supposed Super Bowl contenders:
•First of all, there’s no way the Colts (3-4) can win their sixth straight AFC South title, not when they’re four games back of the only undefeated team in the NFL, the Titans (7-0). Speaking of which: Why didn’t the Titans bench Vince Young long ago? They look much better with Kerry Collins under center than I ever remember them looking with Young.
•The Colts should be counting their blessings they’re in the AFC – wow, that was weird to type – because it’s clearly the weaker of the conferences. The Colts still have the eighth-best record in the AFC, with several of the teams ahead of them, like Denver, Buffalo and Jacksonville, having put up stinkers in recent weeks. But only two games remain on the Indianapolis schedule that look easy – against Cincinnati and Detroit.
•Considering the Colts could be 1-6, and bearing in mind they looked uncomfortable and overmatched on football’s grandest stage, it’s logical to think this team is only a shell of its former, dominating self. It’s logical to think even a playoff berth is unlikely.
Sure, the Colts are still dealing with plenty of injuries. Safety Bob Sanders, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and running back Joseph Addai could be back Sunday night against the New England Patriots and they could change the dynamic of what’s been happening. And someday the reworked offensive line has to jell, right?
But those points don’t truly address some of the mishaps that took place at Tennessee.
They don’t explain why quarterback Peyton Manning’s passes were off target, although it’s unfair just how accurate we expect him to be.
They don’t explain why receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark are letting balls sail through their hands, though Clark did have two touchdowns, or why receiver Marvin Harrison continues to be nearly invisible out there.
And they don’t explain why the Colts didn’t rise to the occasion in prime time, like they so often do.
They failed to convert on two key fourth-down plays, with Dominic Rhodes getting crushed in the backfield on one and a Manning pass getting broken up on the other. Those led to 10 Tennessee points.
The Colts also let a sure interception, which glided into the hands of linebacker Clint Session, fall unbelievably to the ground. And Dante Hughes missed another.
Even Colts coach Tony Dungy looked unable to get out of his own way – he failed to challenge an obvious fumble that was missed by the officials, and the Colts, along with the entire ESPN broadcasting crew, seemed unconcerned with a phantom illegal contact penalty on Marlin Jackson late in the game.
Nonetheless, the Colts were flagged five times for 35 yards, and those sloppy mistakes continue to dog a usually error-free team.
But at least Indianapolis ran the ball OK and stopped the run even better.
That’s something at a time the Colts have little to feel good about, in a season that is quickly closing in on them.
Monday may well have been the beginning of the end.