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Margin of error just left Colts

– This one hurt the Indianapolis Colts. Time will tell how much.

A tough, close win? Big, day-defining plays? The second-half comeback that turned clouds into sunlight?

This Sunday, the other team had ’em. Defeat left a hard question. Defeat usually does in the NFL.

Was that 24-20 loss Sunday to Miami a mere speed bump, or something more telling?

You look at the schedule, and you can understand how much this hurt. The immediate future is a trek through a minefield, and a 2-0 record would have been much lighter baggage to carry.

Next is a trip to San Francisco, with an obvious degree of difficulty. Four of the next six games are on the road. The next five weeks include a murderer’s row of the 49ers, Seattle and Denver, led by some guy named Manning.

The Colts’ hopes – not to mention their record – could sustain considerable damage in this trial by fire.

“Like I told them,” coach Chuck Pagano said, “It’s the National Football League. It doesn’t get any easier.”

There were five sacks by the Colts’ defense. T.Y. Hilton was reintroduced to the game plan and had 124 receiving yards. The offense rolled up 315 yards before halftime, the most robust first half in nine years, and that includes a lot of Peyton Manning days.

There were so many reasons for the Colts to win, except they didn’t.

“You can talk about the stats, but what matters is the final score,” Pagano said. “We were four points short.”

You could listen to the regret in the locker room and tell how much it hurt.

“We should have been victorious, but should have doesn’t count,” safety LaRon Landry said. “It’s going to be a bad feeling once we watch the tape. I already know it is.”

You could see the frustration leaking from quarterback Andrew Luck’s post-game appearance and tell how much.

“Disappointed. I guess a little angry at myself,” he said. “I feel like we are a better team than what we showed out there.”

The Colts, who had specialized in finishing games, had one field goal after halftime.

Every one of Hilton’s 124 yards were in the first half. Reggie Wayne had one catch in the second half.

The escape artists with a relentless talent of finding a way committed such mishaps as losing a touchdown on a penalty.

“There were so many errors on our part,” tight end Coby Fleener said. “It’s not typical of a Colts team.”

The quarterback who excels at fourth quarter CPR had two late chances against the Dolphins. On the first, he tried to force a pass to Wayne and had it intercepted. On the second, he was sacked on fourth down.

“You never want to get sacked on fourth down,” Luck said. “That’s one of the cardinal sins of playing football.”

As for the interception, Luck said: “That’s another play I’d love to have back.”

No quarterback/magician pulls a rabbit out of every helmet, so one close loss in mid-September is hardly fatal. More worrisome is the Colts defense. Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor had such fun in the opener, and the Dolphins were never stopped when they had to be Sunday.

“It’s nothing they did special,” Landry said of the Dolphins. “It was everything that we created on our own.”

The cauldron of the NFL schedule awaits, and each loss means less margin for error.

And that’s why Sunday hurt.

Mike Lopresti is a freelance writer. His columns appear periodically.