The good news out of Japan is that despite losing to the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday by a score of 27-20, the Colts' starting offense looks as potent as ever. And the defense created its share of turnovers and delivered some big hits.
The bad news -- based on this one early preseason glimpse – is that the Colts backup quarterback Jim Sorgi and the Colts run defense has plenty of work to do between now and September 11th.
Fortunately, there's plenty of time and four more preseason games ahead.
The Colts defense provided some early excitement versus Michael Vick when six plays into their opening drive, the Falcons quarterback threw a high pass that was tipped by his receiver and grabbed on the run by Colts safety Bob Sanders before he was brought down at the Colts' 47-yard line.
Peyton Manning and the Colts offense went to work, looking sharp and showing off the dazzling firepower they unleashed so many times last season.
Working out of a no-huddle offense, Manning hit Harrison for 5 yards, then went right back to him for 14 more. After tight end Brian Fletcher dropped a quick pass at the line of scrimmage, Manning completed his next pass to him for a gain of 9. Then it was back to Harrison for 8 more. Edgerrin James took his first run opportunity for a gain of 9 right up the middle. An Atlanta holding penalty moved the Colts to the Falcons' 6-yard line, and James popped through the left side for 4 more. Out of a 3-receiver set, Manning tossed the ball to slot-receiver Troy Walters who drifted from the right side into the middle of the back of the end zone. Nine plays...touchdown Colts.
But then the Falcons responded with the kind of drive that gave the Colts fits last season. Starting from their own ten, Atlanta rolled over the Colts with a long drive that included four runs of 8 yards or greater by Warrick Dunn and Vick completing 3 out of 5 pass attempts. Forutunately, the Falcons self-destructed with a false start on a 4th and 1 at the Colts' four-yard line, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
During that drive, the defense made a few nice plays, including rookie cornerback Marlin Jackson's tight coverage on a long pass attempt by Vick into the Colts end zone that was a bit high and sailed incomplete. Linebackers David Thornton blocked a Vick pass and Gary Brackett dropped Dunn for a rare loss.
With 14:56 left in the first half, the Colts were up 7-3.
The Colts offense got a break when the Falcons kicked off out-of-bounds, setting them up at their 40-yard line. James popped free for a 9-yard gain and the Colts followed it up with a quick short pass for the first down. But then the Colts tried to set up a middle screen to James and allowed pressure through to Manning. But there was too much congestion in the middle and as he tried to lob the pass to James, a Falcons defender was in better position to snag it.
That would be the last play for the first-string offense. But take that one play away, and what you saw was that the offensive machine is still intact and able to practically move the ball at will.
Manning left the game 6 for 8 for 36 yards with one touchdown and one interception. James had three carries for 20 yards, including a 9-yard run. By comparison, Vick finished his two possessions 4-of-7 throwing for 51 yards and one interception, and one rushing attempt for 10 yards. Dunn carried the ball ten times for 48 yards, almost 5 yards per carry.
Both teams started bringing in the reserves, and the Falcons' second-string clearly outclassed the Colts. QB Matt Schaub was sharp (11-13-115, 2 TDs) while Colts QB Jim Sorgi (6-4-68, 0 TDs)struggled to find open receivers and seemed unaware of impending danger in the pocket, leading to sacks that stalled the offense.
On his first drive, Schaub had a short field to work with following the Manning interception. But he drove his team into scoring position, settling for a field goal after a big hit by Marlin Jackson left a Falcons receiver 3 yards short of a crucial first down. As Sorgi took over the Colts offense, the Colts had a slim 7-6 lead with just over 9 minutes left in the half.
His first play of the drive would be his biggest and best – a 34-yard zip to Aaron Moorehead, putting the Colts across midfield. But after two more passes and a 1-yard run by Dominic Rhodes, the Colts had to punt.
With Atlanta backed up at their own 5-yard line, running back Jason Wright dropped the handoff, and as the ball bounced back up to him, Josh Mallard was in his lane and bumped into him, jarring the bobbling ball into the air and into the hands of linebacker Kendyll Pope. With just a few steps forward, the Colts linebacker put the Colts back into the lead, 14-6.
Wright made the Colts pay on the next possession though, playing a key role in a 9-play drive that ended with a pass to a wide open Brian Finneran in the right-middle of the end zone.
Aaron Moorehead turned the ball back over to the Falcons on the second play of the next possession, fumbling it away as he fell to the turf at the two-minute warning. Atlanta took over on the Colts' forty.
On a third-and-thirteen, even a Robert Mathis facemask of the Falcons quarterback couldn't prevent a completion in front of rookie Matt Giordano. With the penalty tacked on, Atlanta picked up 31 yards. And while the Colts stalled the Falcons for three plays, forcing a fourth-and-two inside the 5-yard line, Atlanta RB Fred McCrary tipped a pass that then bounced off his head and into his arms as he fell at the two. With no Colt close by, he rolled forward and put the ball on the goal as he was touched. With just 10 seconds remaining in the half, the Falcons had a 20-14 lead.
The Colts' second-half started with rookie Anthony Davis muffing the kickoff and watching it bounce forward off his knee about 12 yards before Atlanta recovered it. But a penalty against the Falcons forced them to kickoff again, negating the turnover.
After picking up one first down, Sorgi was sacked twice with a rush from his right side as rookie offensive tackle Jason Russell was beat on the first play and was tied up with the defensive end on the next play – unable to slide out to pick up the blitzing linebacker.
After the teams exchanged punts, Sorgi went back to work and was sacked on his first play after evading one tackler in the pocket. Two plays later he overthrew Aaron Moorehead, who was called for offensive pass interference on the play. Then Sorgi overthrew James Mungro on a screen pass. Two players converged on Sorgi on the next play, sacking him and setting up another punt.
The Colts' other drafted cornerback, Kelvin Hayden, weighed in with a big hit on the Falcons' third play of their next drive, popping the ball loose. Gerome Sapp recovered the ball setting the Colts up at their own 35.
Sorgi then completed three passes, although one was too high and resulted in a catch thanks to a great leap by Brad Pyatt. After picking up two first downs, Sorgi threw a pass too wide, forcing his receiver out of bounds. Then while getting pressure he underthrew his receiver. On third-and-ten he opted to throw to a well-covered Pyatt, sailing his pass high instead of noticing that Dominic Rhodes had slipped through the line and was open in the middle.
That was the end of the day for Sorgi, playing for practically half the game, but with no points on the scoreboard to show for it -- and raising some concern as to what kind of shape the Colts will be in if they would have to turn the offense over to him at some point during the season. His seeming uncertainty in the pocket and late reaction to oncoming rushers seemed uncharacteristic...and as a result a bit alarming.
The outcome of the game was turned over to third –string quarterbacks Ty Detmer (5-7-26, TDs) and Travis Brown (10-14-136, 1 TD, 1 INT). The most notable plays in Detmer's first drive were a nifty scramble on a third-and-six from his nine-yard line -- while being pursued by DT Jason Stewart and LB Thomas Houchin -- that he converted into a first down, and Falcons' first-round draft pick WR Roddy White badly beating defensive back (and former wide receiver) Eric Hill for what should have been a long pass play if Detmer hadn't underthrown his receiver. The pass dropped harmlessly short, allowing the Colts to dodge a bullet. They capitalized when Jason Stewart fought off a block to drop a Falcons running back 6 yards short on a middle screen play.
Travis Brown didn't get off to a great start, throwing his first pass inside his intended receiver and right into the hands of a Falcons receiver. Atlanta made the Colts pay for the miscue, taking advantage of the field position at the Colts' 25-yard line.
After three running plays, Detmer went to the air on first-and-ten to Roddy White, but Colts cornerback Jermaine Mays arrived at the same time the ball did, giving White little chance to pull down the high pass. Detmer went short to his tight end, but LB Nick Hannah was right there to make the stop, holding Atlanta to a 4-yard gain. But a short pass to Wright followed by him bullying his way through a couple of tackle attempts set the Falcons up at the 2-yard line.
The Colts defense rallied and gang-tackled the first run attempt for a gain of one. And then Darrel Reid made an impressive tackle on a run to the left side for no gain. But Wright finally broke through for the score that put the Falcons up 27-14 with 6 minutes remaining.
Brown went to work with John Standeford, Montiese Culton and LeVon Thomas as his targets. Starting from his own 24, Brown hit Standeford….then Culton…then Thomas who made some nice moves up the sideline to ensure another Colts first down on the drive. Two plays later, Brown connected with Culton on a deep route up the right side to the 4-yard line, a 44-yard pass completion. On first down, Brown found Standeford open on the left side at the goal line for the score. Following Mike Vanderjagt's extra point, the Colts trailed by a count of 27-21 with just four minutes remaining.
The Falcons failed to get a first down, but ran the clock down to 1:40 as Brown tried to rally the Colts for another quick score. He opened with a 25-yard pass play to Standeford and followed it up with a 5-yard pass to Anthony Davis. With the clock ticking, he hit Standeford for 5 more and the Purdue alumnus got out of bounds. His next pass connected with Thomas who again jaunted up the sideline after the catch, gaining 22 yards to the Atlanta 29. But that's as close as they would get.
Brown's next four attempts included an overthrow, a pass that seemed to be purposely thrown too high due to Culton being double-covered in the end zone, an overthrow as he was being hit, and a sack on fourth down.
Never one to accept defeat well, Manning was fully engaged on the sideline as Brown tried to successfully mount the comeback. When Brown was sacked on fourth-down, Manning looked clearly disappointed that the Colts would be flying home with a loss – even if it was just a preseason game.
We would have liked to have gotten the victory," Manning said after the game. But we'll learn from it and come out again next week."
Atlanta ran out the few seconds remaining on the clock, and the first NFL preseason game was in the books.
Although the Colts came up short on the scoreboard, several players stood out…and ColtPower will be providing game tape analysis of some of those players this week in our articles. We'll also be breaking down some of the big plays, filling you in on what happened to create those situations. And we'll take a look at how Atlanta was able to run so well against the Colts defense – an aspect of the game that the Colts hoped to shore up during this offseason.
Check back throughout the week for those stories and for some new story features as we kickoff our thorough and insightful coverage of the Colts' 2005 season!
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