The last time the Indianapolis Colts had a 100-yard rusher was also the last time they lost to an AFC South Division opponent.
Rookie Vick Ballard gained 105 yards on 18 carries in a 29-17 loss at the Houston Texans on Dec. 16, 2012.
Since then, the Colts have won 13 consecutive games against division foes, the NFL's longest such streak, entering Sunday’s road test against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium.
And since then, the Colts have gone 42 games counting playoffs without a back reaching the century mark in rushing yards, which doesn’t seem possible considering this team has won 11 regular-season games and reached the playoffs the past three years.
For a more humbling dose of dubious perspective, consider that in the last two January playoff losses at New England, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount has gashed the Colts for a combined 314 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 54 carries.
All that, again, in just two games.
When running back Frank Gore, San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher with 11,073 yards, signed with the Colts in March, he thought he could provide a missing piece to the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense. But that has yet to be the case.
Gore has rushed for 88 yards on 23 carries in two double-digit losses. While the speed and instincts are still there — he had two runs for a combined 23 yards wiped out by holding penalties Monday — Gore has had to wait six days to distance himself from the nightmare of fumbling away a touchdown on a third-and-goal rush at the New York Jets’ 1.
While the Colts insist that establishing a run game is still a priority, the continual question is, “When will that happen?”
“I love him,” head coach Chuck Pagano said of Gore on Friday. “I think we’ve got a sample now. We knew what we had in here. That guy is a good running back. He’s a special running back.
“Like (offensive coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) said (Thursday), the guy can create his own yards. We opened up some great holes for him. Offensive line did a great job. Some things were called back. As you guys know, we’re working like heck on that stuff. Guys are doing a great job. He’s a heck of a back. We’ll do even better this week.”
In fairness, seeing is believing.
Gore, 32, couldn’t have been more disgusted with that fumble. He fumed after the 20-7 home loss to the Jets that he is “better than that.”
As the Colts try to regroup after scoring a league-low 21 points so far, they face a Titans defense that ranks 16th in rushing defense at 104 yards allowed per game. But that was against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, not exactly explosive offenses.
“It’s very surprising,” Gore said Wednesday of the offensive struggles, “especially with the guys we have on the offensive side of the ball. I think if we take care of the ball and stop hurting ourselves with penalties, it will be different.”
Gore has rushed for 1,000 yards in nine of the past 10 seasons. At his current pace, he would finish with 704 yards, which would be his lowest total since he had 608 as a rookie who started only once in 2005.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “We know what we’ve got in this locker room. We know what we’ve got with this coaching staff. We’ve got a great group. We’ve just got to get better each day in practice, play better on Sundays, stop killing ourselves and just go out there and play for each other.”
Pagano’s belief in Gore suggests the problems with getting him going are more of a reflection on the running back’s new surroundings, be it play-calling which has prevented a commitment to the run, the offensive line and/or its penalties that wipe out positive plays.
“We watched the film and we know what we have to get better at,” Gore said. “Hopefully this Sunday, it will happen.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.