Saints 34, Colts 7: What caught our eye

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – DECEMBER 16: Taysom Hill #7 of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown over free safety Malik Hooker #29 of the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter of the game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 16, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

  • INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 34-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. One thing that’s impossible to ignore: the Colts have now been outscored 96-14 in their last two trips to the Big Easy.

    It’s over: Not the season. There still are two games remaining, starting with Sunday’s home finale against Carolina. The comprehensive thumping at the hands of the Saints officially extinguished the Colts’ already-flickering postseason hopes. After ending a three-year drought by finishing 10-6 and earning a wild-card playoff berth last season, the best they can hope for is an 8-8 encore.

    It seems like ages ago the Colts were 5-2 and sitting atop the AFC South. The loss to New Orleans was Indy’s fourth straight and sixth in seven games.

    “We’ve had some disappointing losses this year (but) we haven’t had one like this one,’’ Frank Reich said.  “We got our butts beat bad in all three phases. That’s hard to swallow.’’

    The 27-point loss is the worst since Reich took over last season. Ten of the previous 16 losses were one-possession games, including six this year.

    “These losses are tough the way they’ve mounted up,’’ Reich said. “There’s no excuses for it. It starts with me.

    “Nothing’s acceptable about a loss like this. I’ve just been around long enough to know it happens. Every now and then something like this happens. It doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. It’s not acceptable.’’

    Where’s the offense?: While Drew Brees spent the evening playing pitch-and-catch with nine different receivers and setting NFL records in the process (more on that on a bit), Jacoby Brissett and the Colts’ offense got very little accomplished. Brissett never found his comfort zone, especially early when things still were in doubt. The first drive stalled when he missed a wide-open Zach Pascal on third-and-9. Another errant throw – again high – to T.Y. Hilton on second-and-8 helped sabotage the ensuing possession when the Colts only trailed 3-0.

    “It was a lot of self-inflicted things,’’ Brissett said. “Missed a couple of throws . . . no rhythm.

    “I made throws that I usually don’t. We needed to stay ahead of the chains.’’

    That never was the case. Brissett was 5-of-15 for 69 yards in the first half and 18-of-34 for 165 yards for the game. It marked the ninth time in 14 games the Colts have finished with fewer than 192 net passing yards.

    The entire offense followed Brissett’s lead. Operating behind what’s billed as one of the top line’s in the league, it finished with just 205 total yards, the team’s fewest since managing 190 against Houston in 2015. The NFL’s No. 6-ranked running attack was stymied early and often: 17 attempts, 46 yards. Marlon Mack finished with 19 yards on 11 carries.

    If you need a positive to cling to, the Colts outscored the Saints 7-0 in the fourth quarter. They averted what would have been just their third shutout loss since 1993 when Jordan Wilkins notched a 1-yard TD with 4 minutes to play.

    Where’s the defense?: Just as nothing worked on offense, the Colts had no answers for the Brees-led Saints. New Orleans put a stranglehold on the game by scoring on its first six possessions: four touchdowns, all from Brees’ wicked right arm, and two Wil Lutz field goals. Thomas Morstead’s first punt came at the 12:28 mark of the fourth quarter.

    “We just didn’t show up. Very embarrassing,’’ linebacker Darius Leonard said.

    It was as if Brees was running 7-on-7 drills. He eclipsed Peyton Manning’s NFL record of 539 TD passes with a 5-yard toss to tight end Josh Hill to open the third quarter – his third of the game – then pushed it to 541 with a 28-yarder to Tysom Hill on the ensuing possession.

    By the time Sean Payton pulled his ultra-efficient QB, Brees had completed 29-of-30 passes for 304 yards and the four TDs. His completion percentage – a ridiculous 96.7 – broke Philip Rivers’ NFL record (96.6, 28-of-29 versus Cleveland in 2018). He suffered the incompletion on a short flip to Latavius Murray, then rattled off a career-best 22 straight before calling it a night.

    Brees benefited from his patented quick release and a Colts’ pass rush that failed to register a sack and was credited with just two QB hits.

    “He’s done that to a lot of people,’’ Reich said. “When he gets like that, I don’t know anybody that can stop him.’’

    The Colts certainly have no answers. Consider Brees’ stat line from Monday night, the Saints’ 62-7 win in 2011 and New Orleans’ 31-17 win in Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season: 92-of-104, 920 yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, a 138.8 rating.

    The Colts pass defense has been shredded the last two weeks by Brees and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston. Their shared stat line: 62-of-75 (82.7 percent), 763 yards, eight TDs, a 144.6 passer rating.

    Where’s special teams?: For a third straight game, special teams were anything but special. After the first drive stalled, Clayton Geathers downed Rigoberto Sanchez’s punt at the 2-yard line. That was negated by a holding penalty on Jonathan Williams. On the do-over, Dwayne Washington beat Wilkins’ on the right side of Sanchez’s protection and deflected the punt. The Saints took over at the Indy 33. Seven plays later, the rout was on with Lutz’s 33-yard field goal.

    Here’s where we remind you Chase McLaughlin had a 47-yard field goal glance off the right upright in the fourth quarter of last week’s 38-35 loss at Tampa – those 3 points would have come in handy, right? – and Adam Vinatieri had a potential game-tying 46-yard field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown two weeks ago in the 31-17 loss to Tennessee.

    Where’s T.Y.?: T.Y. Hilton returned after missing five of the previous six games with a calf injury, but basically was a non-factor. He was in and out of the lineup much of the evening and finished with just four catches for 25 yards on nine targets. Reich insisted Hilton only would play if he was 100 percent, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

    Injury update: During the course of the game, the Colts lost cornerback Quincy Wilson (shoulder), defensive back Rolan Milligan (foot) and linebacker Anthony Walker (hamstring).

    You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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