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Opinion: Indianapolis Colts' playoff unraveling against Kansas City Chiefs makes no sense  6 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – This was hard to understand, and baffling to believe, because the Indianapolis Colts are better than this. They’re better than a defense that surrenders almost 200 yards in the first quarter. Better than an offense that doesn’t complete a pass from quarterback Andrew Luck or get a first down from anyone until the second quarter. Better than all-time NFL scoring leader and future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri missing a short field goal, then an extra point.

Better than this 31-13 blowout loss Saturday to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

Better than the Chiefs? Well now, I’m not saying that. Point of fact, the Colts are not better than the Chiefs. The regular season showed that; the Chiefs earned the home-field advantage by winning more games. The eyeball test showed it, too. Watch the Chiefs on television this season. Watch the Colts. The Chiefs are better.

But blowout better?

Doesn’t seem possible, what happened at Arrowhead Stadium in the teeth of Winter Storm Gia. The weather was terrible, snow falling hard most of the game and winds gusting all of it, but that doesn’t explain what we saw. Snowed on the Chiefs too, you know? Just didn’t seem that way. This game was so bad, so uncompetitive, that at various points – when the Colts closed to within 17-7 late in the second quarter, and to within 24-13 midway through the fourth – Luck looked at the scoreboard and couldn’t make sense of it.

Yeah, well, not for long. Both times the Colts drew within two scores – after Zach Pascal fell on Najee Goode’s blocked punt in the end zone to make it 17-7, and again after Luck’s perfect pass to the clearly compromised T.Y. Hilton made it 24-13 – the Chiefs answered with an immediate touchdown drive. Because that’s how this 18th and final game of the 2018 season went for the Colts: They were overmatched. They were toyed with. They were the ball of yarn, the Chiefs the cat.

The Colts unraveled.

And it made sense to nobody. Not to you at home, watching a white-hot team – the Colts had blazed into the playoffs with 10 wins in its last 11 games – fizzle out like a failed firework. Not to me in the press box, watching a flat, uninspired team look so much like 2015-17 that I was scanning the sideline for Chuck Pagano. And not to the man who replaced Pagano, Frank Reich, who had the same reaction you and I did.

“It was stunning,” he said. “It’s beyond me how we’ve been so good early in the game, all year …”

And then this happens:

Chiefs 17, Colts 0, early second quarter.

A start like that requires all sorts of nonsense, and the Colts came with the nonsense. Their first play of the game was a 3-yard loss by running back Marlon Mack, who had been running wild in recent weeks but had just 15 yards on seven carries midway through the fourth quarter. The third play was a pass to enigmatic Colts tight end Eric Ebron – so good that he scored 14 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl this season, so bad that I’m never sure he’s going to catch a pass until he’s caught the damn thing – who dropped it. Colts have to punt.

The Chiefs drive 90 yards in five plays, with someone named Damien Williams (733 career yards in five seasons entering Saturday) going the last 26 yards. The hole he ran through was so huge, only one Colts defender had a clean shot at him. Fortunately for the Colts, that defender was tackling machine Clayton Geathers, a safety. Unfortunately, more nonsense: Geathers missed Williams badly and collided instead with linebacker Anthony Walker, taking out the only other Colts defender in the vicinity.

Damien Williams – pretty sure I’m getting his name right – was the Chiefs’ third-string running back most of the season. But starter Kareem Hunt was dismissed from the team after 11 games, and backup Spencer Ware (hamstring) was inactive Saturday, allowing Williams the chance to carry it 25 times for 129 yards, the first player to run for more than 100 yards against the Colts this season.

The best stop anyone made on Williams on Saturday came midway through the first quarter when he bolted through a hole, hit the second level – where the linebackers are supposed to be – and ran into the backside of his 6-5, 320-pound teammate, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who had gotten that far downfield because he hadn’t found anyone to hit yet. That limited Williams to 11 yards, to the Colts’ 36-yard line. Next play: A reverse by Tyreek Hill for 36 yards. Touchdown, and it’s 14-0.

And it went from there.

“You play great teams in the playoffs, and you can’t start slow,” Walker said. “And we did today.”

They didn’t close in any sort of hurry, either. With 34 seconds left and the Colts playing for pride – winning was out of the question – rookie receiver Daurice Fountain found himself alone in the end zone for a pass from Luck. Fountain dropped it. That kind of game.

As Luck said: “Not the start we wanted, not the middle we wanted, and not the finish we wanted.”

“Am I surprised?” Leonard said, going rhetorical on me. “Of course I’m surprised. We didn’t play like we were supposed to play.”

There were glimpses. That touchdown pass from Luck to the injured Hilton, the pass perfect, the catch difficult for a player with two healthy ankles, Hilton having half that. Those two sacks within four fourth-quarter snaps from blitzing cornerback Kenny Moore II. And that utterly ridiculous, completely customary forced fumble by Leonard, who dragged down Watkins with one hand as he was clawing the ball free with the other.

That gave the Colts the ball at the Kansas City 20 with one minute left in the third quarter. The Colts trailed 24-7, but the Chiefs’ offense had mostly stalled after star quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweaked his knee early in the second quarter. Get a touchdown here, do it fast, and anything can happen.

Or, this could happen seconds later: Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford rushes Luck, swipes at the ball and forces a fumble the Chiefs recover.

So what happened? Well, we know what happened: 31-13 happened. But how? Why? Hilton had the best answer I heard in the locker room afterward.

“We just didn’t come to play today,” he said.

Completely true. And utterly baffling.



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