A day later, the Indianapolis Colts watched a horror game film and then tried to put Pittsburgh out of their minds.
It’s not the most enjoyable way to spend a Monday, reviewing a 51-34 loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field that couldn't have been more of an unexpected end to a five-game winning streak.
One week after the Colts shut out Cincinnati 27-0, how could they give up 51 points? Not since 1991 has the NFL witnessed such a dubious turnaround — the Chicago Bears defeated visiting Tampa Bay 27-0 and then lost the regular-season finale 52-14 at San Francisco.
It defies logic. And perhaps explanation. Although Colts head coach Chuck Pagano made it clear the loss had nothing to do with his team being overconfident.
“What does it say?” he said, repeating the question. “We didn’t play very good. We didn’t play very good and it doesn’t have anything to do with arrogance, cocky, taking the foot off the gas, complacency. We’ve got great veteran leadership in the locker room. We’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t allow that to happen.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got hot. The Steelers wisely anticipated the Colts’ blitzes — how could they not with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau such an expert on such schemes — and used extra blockers at the expense of fewer pass catchers to ensure “Big” Ben had extra time to find the open man. And he almost always did, be it well-designed plays, one-handed touchdown catches or just broken plays where the passer bought time until Antonio Brown or someone else came free.
Nothing worked for the Colts. And after getting torched for 522 yards passing and six touchdown passes, despite the Colts defense having more players in coverage on so many plays, Pagano offered a blunt synopsis.
“We ran into a buzz saw, if you will, last night,” he said. “They played a great football game and give the Steelers credit in all three phases. Beat us soundly in all three phases.”
While some might suggest the Steelers offered a blueprint for how to beat the Colts (5-3), keep in mind two teams in Pittsburgh’s AFC North Division, Baltimore and Cincinnati, couldn’t handle the same blitzes in recent losses at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So the question becomes, where do the Colts go from here? How do they pick up the pieces?
Players haven’t lost confidence. It might have been shaken for a few hours on Sunday, but it’s only one game. And the mission becomes clear after film study: Learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“You put it behind you,” cornerback Darius Butler said. “We watched the film. We made the corrections. We know who we are as a unit, who we can be. All that means nothing unless we go out there and prove it every Sunday. That’s what we’ve got to do this Monday coming up.”
The Colts venture to East Rutherford, N.J., to face the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. Quarterback Eli Manning, like Roethlisberger, has won two Super Bowls. And he’s had a bye week with his teammates to get ready for the Colts.
If the Giants do as the Steelers and keep in extra blockers, the Colts will have to figure out a way to get pressure and/or cover better and for longer in the secondary. Neither had been a problem for five weeks until this last game.
The good news for the Colts is wide receiver Reggie Wayne is ahead of schedule in his recovery from an elbow injury. He could be back this week. And Pagano said running back Trent Richardson will be ready after not being used Sunday due to a hamstring injury.
The Colts also have a week to decide if they will activate safety LaRon Landry, who has finished his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Pagano said it will depend on if Landry is ready to play after being inactive for one month.
Cornerback Vontae Davis (knee) is listed day-to-day, but Pagano said the injury isn’t believed to be serious. Outside linebacker Erik Walden (hip flexor) is week-to-week, which means he probably won’t be back this week, but the Colts have a bye week after Monday, which translates to extra recovery time.
Asked how the Colts bounce back from Sunday, tight end Coby Fleener played coy and said, “What game are you referring to?” He then added, “Yeah, we’re going to try to turn the page as quickly as we can. We just finished watching the tape. You take your notes and write down what you can learn and move on.”
That’s the reality of the NFL. It can humble a team fast, but win or lose, there’s another game the next week. In this instance, the Colts are understandably eager to look ahead.
Asked how quickly the Colts put Sunday behind them, quarterback Andrew Luck said, “Probably it was around 2:15 today, the tape had been watched, and you learn from it.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.