Total Team Meltdown as Colts Lose 44-17

After weeks of talking about what was causing their team to lose two of their last three games, the Colts not only repeated those mistakes, they tossed a few more problems into the mix in a 44-17 meltdown versus Jacksonville.

A funny thing happened in Jacksonville today during the Colts' 44-17 loss to the Jaguars.

No, really.

Part way through this disaster of a game, strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner was pulled from the lineup for what the television announcers reported was "ineffective play." The Jaguars' running backs were gashing the Colts' run defense and Gardner's primary assignment is usually to hold containment to his side.

The move was reasonable enough. But then why were so many of the other players still out there as the game wore on?

Hey, I'm not here to defend Gardner, I just found it inexplicable that he got pulled from the lineup while this was undoubtedly the most complete total team meltdown I've witnessed in years. The Colts organization spent the week talking about how they had problems to fix as the team geared up for the final quarter of the season. Too many costly and stupid penalties. Too many dropped passes. A run defense that couldn't stop the run. An offense that needed to be more consistent with their possessions, reducing turnovers and driving with the ball.

Well, the team must have taken the week off or not paid attention. Because none of those areas got better, in fact, they deteriorated. You just witnessed the implosion of a team that had figured out ways to win in tight games in the first nine weeks of the year, but has now lost three of their last four games. Across the way was a Jacksonville team that looked like they could go deep into the playoffs if they survive a very challenging three-game schedule that lies ahead for them.

Prior to the game, one of the announcers stated that the Colts offense had to do a better job with fewer possessions since the run defense wasn't strong enough to stop the opposing offense from milking the clock. During his NFL conference call this week, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said, "With our defense struggling against the run, time is going to run off the clock and limit our possessions, so we have to make everything count. Last week we had something like eight or nine possessions against Tennessee. That is cutting out at least three possessions which can easily add 25 plays to your offense so we definitely have to take advantage of what we have and we can't have turnovers because that takes away from the possessions we already have."

Well, as I pointed out earlier this week, that whole number of possessions argument doesn't hold water. By halftime, the Colts offense had 7 possessions and just 10 points. They had five more in the second half and scored just a single touchdown. Count 'em...12 possessions, 17 points. Inexcusable.

So I'll say it again. It's not how many possessions you have, it's what you do with it when you have it.

The Colts dropped at least eight passes, including a TD pass on the opening drive by Brandon Stokley that would have set a positive tone.  Peyton Manning was inconsistent with some of his throws and while he was picked off only once, he was lucky not to finish the day with at least three interceptions. Out of 12 possessions by Indy, five of them were three downs and out. Three others were six plays or less. 

Do those really count as possessions? Six of those possessions were a minute and forty-three seconds or less. So when you look at the stats and see that Jacksonville had a 3-minute edge in time of possession, it wasn't the Colts defense's fault today. The Jaguars offense didn't have possession of the ball for longer than three minutes on ten of their twelve offensive possessions. They just didn't need that much time to put 37 of their team's 44 points on the scoreboard.

Say it with me, now. It's not how many possessions you have, it's what you do with it when you have it.

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (Marc Serota/Getty Images)
The defense was simply atrocious. Jacksonville was a running backs house of horrors for them. Rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 166 yards on just 15 carries for an 11.1 yards per carry average. Fred Taylor added another 131 yards on nine carries for a 14.6 yards per carry. But to toss some salt into the open wound, even third-string back Alvin Pearman put up 71 yards averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

It doesn't look like that bold coaching move of benching Gardner really did the trick. 

And isn't it ironic to think about how people wasted their breath this week wondering if David Garrard's mobility would create problems for the Colts? He had just four yards rushing and 79 yards passing. He really didn't have to do much other than make sure he was handing the ball off effectively to his backs.

As for that nagging penalty problem that the Colts were trying to fix, the most frustrating issue wasn't that the Colts were flagged seven times, it was that so many of them were easily avoidable. Kelvin Hayden was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Reggie Wayne was flagged for a late shove out of bounds that gave the ball to Jacksonville at their 27-yard line instead of at their 12. Darrell Reid got called for a delay of game for trying to simulate the snap count and for an unnecessary roughness call after an extra point. Even defensive captain Gary Brackett got called for a rare unnecessary roughness penalty.

Honestly, today the Colts looked like the old Jacksonville Jaguars out there. They were a team that couldn't keep their cool in the face of adversity. That's going to make Tony Dungy one very unhappy camper this week.

Even the special teams units had their problems despite the return of linebacker Keith O'Neil to the mix. Poor blocking led to a blocked Hunter Smith punt, Adam Vinatieri had to make a touchdown saving tackle on a kickoff, and then of course there was the 93-yard kickoff return by Jones-Drew, who finished the day with 312 all-purpose yards. If that doesn't earn Jones-Drew at least a Rookie of the Week award, someone in the NFL isn't aware that there's a franchise in Jacksonville.

And then there was the coaching. If it's a total team meltdown, you can't let Tony Dungy and his crew off the hook. And he will likely be the first person to fall on his sword after an embarrassing loss like this. Anytime a team executes as poorly as this one did after the head coach systematically points out where their problems have been over recent weeks ... well, let's just say that's not a good sign and leave it at that.

Just thinking out loud here...

About the only good news of the day is that the Patriots were shutout by the Dolphins, preventing New England from gaining any ground on the Colts. The bad news is that Indy faces Miami as well in three weeks to close out the regular season. That game doesn't look like the cakewalk it did earlier in the season.

Is anyone else wondering if the Colts blew it a bit by passing on Jones-Drew when he was on the board when they made their pick near the end of the first round this year? It's great that Joseph Addai (who had a disappointing 22 yards rushing for a total of 22 all-purpose yards and 2.0 yards per carry) is leading the NFL's rookies in rushing yardage, but Jones-Drew dominated this football game. They're both very talented guys, and Addai sure is fun to watch run with the way he moves out there, but Jones-Drew is that aggressive bull-headed up-the-middle runner that the Colts have desperately needed over the past few years. I guess we'll see.

You know, before the Colts trotted on the field for their opening kickoff return, they were missing S Bob Sanders as well as DTs Corey Simon and Montae Reagor as has been the case for most of the season. Then they lost rookie safety Antoine Bethea early in the game. Then they pull Gardner and they lose their other safety, Marlin Jackson to a shoulder injury. Cornerback Nick Harper ends up off the field as well late in the game and is replaced by rookie Kelvin Hayden. All I can say is it's a good thing that unit has names on the backs of their jerseys or they might not be able to figure out who is lining up next to them at times.

Meanwhile, the offense had all of their starters available with the exception of TE Dallas Clark -- that is until wide receiver Brandon Stokley was felled by an Achilles injury without being touched by an opposing player. The extent of the injury hasn't been determined yet, but it's Stokley's third time this year with a leg injury. He's had both knee and ankle problems this season. That recent move to sign Ricky Proehl to the roster sure is looking a lot smarter, isn't it? And if I was Stokley, I'd be a bit nervous heading into this offseason. The team has become less patient with players who have a history of injury problems. Just ask guys like Donald Strickland, Joseph Jefferson and Rocky Calmus. Don't be surprised to see wide receiver be a pretty high priority in next year's draft despite all the problems right now on defense.

You know, this team has really bottomed out, which should be a major slap in the face to their pride, because these are good men when you look at them as people. They have been talking about many of the team's problems for about a month now, but it really hasn't seemed like there was a sense of urgency over it. And although this team could back their way into the playoffs, they won't get past the first game if they don't truly acknowledge that they aren't as good as their 10-3 record indicates right now -- and that they better get more urgent, focused, and creative about finding real solutions rather than just talking about them. They have to come to grips with the fact that their backs are up against the wall and it's just not going to fix itself very easily.

During his NFL conference call this week, head coach Tony Dungy was asked if once his team clinches the division if he'd have to start fielding questions about whether he should play his starters or rest them for the playoffs.

Dungy replied, "Frankly, I wish we were dealing with those questions."

I'll bet he still is ... or perhaps even more so after that drubbing today.

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