Playoffs? Playoffs? Now that’s a long shot for Colts

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Where is Jim Mora when you need him?

Sadly, not at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday evening.

And on the heels of the Indianapolis Colts absolutely turning a blind eye to a golden opportunity to establish themselves as the front-runner in the winnable AFC South with their 22-17 loss to the Houston Texans, a couple of Mora sound bites would have fit in quite nicely.

Cue up No. 1:  Playoffs? Don’t talk about . . . playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game, another game.

The Colts aren’t out of the hunt at 6-7, but they’re barely in it with three to play. They trail Houston and Tennessee, tied atop the division at 7-6. And their next two are on the road – Sunday at Minnesota and Dec. 24 at Oakland.

Consider this damning observation from Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton: “We laid down. It’s simple. Guys didn’t make plays that were supposed to make plays.’’

Had the Colts won instead of being swept by the Texans for the first time –  ever  – they would have had a 56.9 percent chance of winning the AFC South, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Now, it’s less 10 percent, meaning they’re on the verge of missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-98.

And to think the Texans will have been primarily culprits. Again. After being winless in 13 trips to Indy, Houston essentially extinguished the Colts playoff hopes 12 months ago with a 16-10 win.

And now Sunday.

“Yeah, it sucks,’’ offered cornerbacker Darius Butler. “We blew it.’’

The issues that contributed to the Colts getting off to a 2-4 start reared their head once again: dropped passes in critical situations (at least one killer by Phillip Dorsett); nine penalties for 59 yards; spotty pass protection that resulted in Luck being sacked only once, but hit another dozen times.

We’ll get back to this in a bit.

Cue up No. 2:  Do not blame that game on the defense, OK? We gave them the friggin’ game. In my opinion, that sucked.

A defense without three starters and relying on three rookie starters kept things winnable despite dealing with Houston’s battering-ram offensive approach – 185 yards on 41 rushes – and the Colts’ careless offense. Twice, Andrew Luck interceptions gave the Texans a short field, once at the Indy 16 and another time at the 18. The defense kept the damage to a minimum each time, forcing 21- and 24-yard field goals by Nick Novak.

“We some made plays,’’ said linebacker Erik Walden, “but we didn’t make enough.’’

Houston’s 28th-ranked offense did just enough. Lamar Miller pounded away for 107 yards after gashing the Colts for 149 two months ago. Brock Osweiler, the NFL’s 31st-ranked quarterback, was a pedestrian 14-of-24 for 147 yards and one interception, but the Texans converted enough critical third downs (5-of-14 on the day) and dominated time of possession 36:05-23:55.

Usually, the Colts’ 28th-ranked defense allowing just 316 total yards and one touchdown is more than good enough.

But not when the offense follows its best outing of the season – the 41-10 demolition of the New York Jets – with one of its worst.

Six days prior, Luck posted a career-best 147.6 passer rating at the expense of the Jets. Sunday, was a comparable clunker – 24-of-45, 276 yards, two TDs, two interceptions, a lost fumble and a 68.4 rating – although it’s worth noting not all of that was on him.

On Luck’s first-quarter interception, tight end Dwayne Allen was tripped up, giving cornerback Quintin Demps easy access to the football.

Late in the third quarter with the Colts trailing 16-10, they reached a first-and-goal at the Houston 5. After two runs netted 2 yards, Luck lost a third-down fumble when Jadeveon Clowney whipped Allen’s one-on-one blocking and generated a sack/strip. Allen tried to scoop up the loose football, but failed. Whitney Mercilus recovered for the Texans.

“Some bad plays by me, those turnovers,’’ Luck said. “We obviously didn’t execute like we needed to execute to give ourselves a better chance to win that game.

“All that being said, we had a chance at the end of it and we didn’t capitalize.’’

The Colts undoubtedly would like a mulligan on a failed fourth-and-1 at the Houston 42 with 1:24 remaining and their season on the line. Hilton’s 6-yard reception on third-and-1 came up short.

Luck’s intended fourth-down screen pass to running back Robert Turbin went awry. Game over.

“There were multiple options on the play,’’ Luck said. “Part of it was a screen and not a great decision by me.’’

Turbin revealed he was the primary option, but Luck seemed to look to his left before coming back to the screen. Houston was in man coverage and linebacker Benardrick McKinney was all over Turbin.

“The linebackers read it pretty well,’’ Turbin said. “Just a tough play, man, and we didn’t execute.’’

So here they are, trailing the Texans and Titans in the AFC South and quickly running out of games to do anything about it. Houston actually holds a two-game lead over the Colts based on their season sweep.

“It’s tough,’’ running back Frank Gore admitted. “Now we have to play the wishing and hoping game. Like I said earlier, we know what this game meant.’’

“This was a great opportunity and we did not take advantage of it,’’ Luck said. “They did and now it’s back to it and how you respond.

“So now we know we have to go out and take care of our business. There’s a little bit of hoping involved, but we still have to take care of business.’’

Coach Chuck Pagano appeared drained after the game. Clearly, the loss will take a few days to get over.

“Obviously we had a great opportunity,’’ he said. “We fought ourselves back in this race, to be put in this position.

“We didn’t take advantage of it. It’s very, very disappointing. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are hurting in there, but that’s how it goes.’’

 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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