The lessons offered in Chicago obviously did not take, as the Colts were once again schooled on the road. Jets running back Shonn Green, who averaged 43 yards in the first five games, broke loose for a career-high 161 and three touchdowns as the Jets simply overpowered the Colts 35-9 Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
It was eerily similar to the season-opening 41-21 loss in Chicago, as the Colts were plagued by shaky play from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck (two interceptions, one lost fumble), failed to establish any kind of presence in the running game (41 yards on 17 attempts) and were utterly defenseless. Averaging 3.2 yards per carry entering the game, the Jets racked up 252 rushing yards and a 5.7 average.
Any hope of building momentum from last Sunday’s inspiring second-half comeback and 30-27 victory over Green Bay was dashed by this performance, which dropped the Colts’ record to 2-3 overall, 0-2 on the road – where they’ve been outscored 76-30. The Jets snapped a two-game losing streak to improve to 3-3 overall, 2-2 at home.
The Colts had two solid drives in the first half but had to settle for field goals on both. Luck missed a wide-open Coby Fleener in the end zone on third and one from the 2-yard line to stop the first, and a penalty on Jeff Linkenbach followed by a sack of Luck stalled the second. The Jets, meanwhile, marched 80 yards – 57 on the ground – for a touchdown, then turned Antonio Cromartie’s interception into another score with a short-field TD drive. The Jets’ third touchdown of the second quarter capped a 70-yard drive highlighted by a fake punt from the Colts’ 40-yard line, with Tim Tebow completing a 23-yard pass to Nick Bellore.
A 61-yard run by Joe McKnight set up another TD that made it 28-6 late in the third. With a chance to cut it two a two-score game, the Colts marched one more time deep into Jets territory but Luck underthrew Donnie Avery in the end zone and was picked off. On the next possession, he lost a fumble when hit from behind, leading to the Jets’ final score.
>> “All the things we identified on Wednesday as keys to the game – fake kicks, red zone offense, red zone defense, getting off on third downs, getting third down conversions – but more than that it was just blocking and tackling. We hit ‘em in the backfield a number of times and didn’t make the tackle. We obviously didn’t protect our quarterback well enough to win on the road, especially when you turn it over three times.” – Colts interim coach Bruce Arians.
>> “(Luck) played a little rookie-ish today at times.” – Arians
>> “We had a great week of practice. There was no emotional hangover from last week. We’ve just got to learn to take it on the road and the biggest thing is to eliminate turnovers.” – Arians
>> “Credit goes to the Jets for putting us in bad spots and capitalizing on those. We stalled in the red zone, struggled on third down early and that continued in the second half. I know I played poorly. I’m sure other guys would say the same. Not enough attention to detail and execution.” – Luck
> >“We gave up too much in the running game. That’s something we can’t do, it’s something we’ve got to pick up and just stop teams from doing that.” – Jerry Hughes
Luck has been a different player on the road. He completed 22 of 44 for 280 yards but had the three turnovers and had a 51.3 passer rating. In two road games, he has five interceptions and two lost fumbles and a 51.8 rating. In three home games, he has six touchdowns, two picks and an 85.4 rating. It would be easy to blame the lack of running game on the absence of injured back Donald Brown but the problems are deeper. The running backs have combined to produce 322 yards and a 3.3 average. Reggie Wayne had a tough time getting open against Antonio Cromartie. Though he finished with five receptions for 87 yards, most came after the outcome was decided and the Jets backed off into a deep zone.
The Jets were able to revert to their identity, pounding away on the ground and using the pass only when necessary. While Greene and McKnight (71 yards on three carries) were gashing the Colts consistently, Mark Sanchez only had to attempt 18 passes, competing 11 for 82 yards and a pair of short TDs. With Robert Mathis out, Cory Redding missing most of the game after injuring a knee in the first quarter and Dwight Freeney clearly hampered by his high ankle sprain, there was no playmaking. The Colts registered one sack (by Hughes) did not come up with a turnover. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman was the leading tacker once again with 14, while Hughes and safety Antoine Bethea had eight apiece.
Adam Vinatieri had field goals of 20, 50 and 47 yards and Pat McAfee did his usual solid job in the punting game and the coverage was for the most part adequate, aside from McKnight’s 34-yard kickoff return.
Starting the game without six starters and finishing without two more (Redding and right tackle Winston Justice), the Colts continue to stretch their relatively thin depth to the limit. Some will blame this game on an inevitable letdown after their emotional performance against the Packers, but Arians dismissed that notion. Until the Colts can establishing a consistent presence in the trenches both offensively and defensively, they will be susceptible to being overpowered – and emotion has nothing to do with that.
This was a fairly substantial backward step. The Colts played the entire game like they played the first half against Green Bay, and showed no progress in their primary trouble spots – run offense, run defense, turnovers and big plays. There was little to like about this one, so give the team a solid D-minus.