Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano tried to assure one loss does not a season make.
“It’s one game,” he said after Sunday’s 27-14 road loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“It will not define this football team. It will not define us.”
It’s true, 15 regular-season games remain to determine what the Colts can do. But an offseason of Super Bowl hype had the fan base excited about the possibilities. Then the Bills smacked the two-time AFC South Division champions in the mouth.
Colts owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano have talked during the offseason about wanting this team to be more physical and display toughness against like-minded foes. The Bills clearly won that battle in Week 1.
It’s also true that teams make mistakes each week, but the Colts made far too many, and in every area. They committed costly penalties, had three turnovers, botched special teams returns, gave up a deep touchdown pass and, perhaps most importantly, failed to stop the Bills’ rushing attack.
Stuffing the run has been a key point of emphasis this offseason. Yet the Bills ran for 147 yards and two scores. And running the football is one team imposing its physical will on another. That’s why this statistic might have been most discouraging for the Colts in the season opener.
“Defensively, you can’t give up big plays,” Pagano said of his Colts, who allowed a 51-yard touchdown pass and 26-yard TD rush. “I thought for the most part they had the backs in check, but then one guy comes in and gets the long run, which was disappointing.
“The quarterback had 41 yards scrambling. We knew he was going to be a nuisance in the run game and scramble around when he dropped back to pass. We leet him off the hook and he had a big play there.”
The quarterback in question was the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor, who triumphed in his first NFL start. Pagano knew Taylor’s game. They were together in Baltimore in 2011. But the Colts still didn’t get enough stops.
Equally disappointing was the Colts’ inability to move the ball consistently or score — they were down 24-0 when finally reaching the end zone for the first time on a Donte Moncrief touchdown catch late in the third quarter.
The big deficit was reminiscent of lopsided losses last season, when the Colts would fall behind by double digits and couldn’t recover.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked twice and struggled throughout in completing 26-of-49 passes for 243 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
“The Bills have a good defense,” Pagano said. “You mix the pressure with tight coverage — give them credit. They’ve got good players on that side of the football. They played man-to-man coverage, they played tight coverage and they got in our faces. You have to win those match-ups.”
This kind of defense is why the Bills hired Rex Ryan as head coach. And it’s the kind of defense the Colts have been hoping to see from bringing in Pagano in 2012 after he was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator.
Buffalo’s pressure and lining up extra defenders in the box discouraged the Colts from establishing a balanced attack. The Colts ran for 64 yards on 17 carries. Running back Frank Gore had 31 yards on nine carries before struggling late with calf craps. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton called 51 pass plays.
“Even though they put the eighth guy in the box, you’re going to get some different looks and that gets you out of the run game,” Pagano said. “We’ve still got to be able to run it more. We’re not going to survive by the pass only. I think everybody understands that. We did rip off a few good runs, but we’ve got to do better.”
That much was obvious for the entire team.
“We didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing,” Pagano said.
Another continuing topic of discussion was broached in his post-game press conference. Two new national reports again suggest Pagano might not be coaching the Colts next year due to a rift with Grigson.
Asked if there was any validity to the reports, Pagano said, “No, not at all.”
Asked if he had any response to what has been reported, because it’s out there, the fourth-year head coach said, “It’s out there all the time. We’re all on one-day contracts. I’ve told you that before. I understand what I signed up for. I understand where I’m at. It’s one football game. I believe in this team, I believe in this staff and I believe in myself.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.