Missed opportunities. That's what plagued the Indianapolis Colts all afternoon Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indianapolis went into the locker room at halftime with a 14-3 lead over AFC rival Jacksonville. The Colts were holding onto a 14-13 advantage after three quarters. But in the end, it was the plays that the Colts didn't make en route to a 22-17 home field loss to the Jaguars.
Usually dependable placekicker Adam Vinatieri was wide left on a 36-yard field goal attempt with 4:45 remaining in the game and Indianapolis trailing 16-14. After an exchange of offensive possessions, he wound up by squeezing a 37-yarder inside the left upright to put Indianapolis on top 17-16 with 1:01 left.
Still not good enough. On Jacksonville's very first play on its next possession, with a first-and-10 at its own 20-yard line, Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert found second-year wide receiver Cecil Shorts on a crossing pattern over middle and the former Mount Union College track standout sprinted 80 yards for the eventual winning touchdown.
The Colts had one final drive to try and pull out the win. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck directed the offense on a six-play drive that started on the Indianapolis 38-yard line and wound up at the Jaguars' 26 six plays later. Two final desperation passes, both intended for veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, fell incomplete as time expired.
As Colts coach Chuck Pagano said afterward, the loss -- in a game that Indianapolis had been the pre-game favorite over the previously 0-2 Jaguars -- was a gut-wrencher.
Indianapolis committed 11 penalties (nine in the second half) for 106 yards and turned the football over once when Luck was intercepted by Jacksonville middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. The Jaguars were penalized six times for 67 yards and did not commit any turnovers.
Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew and placekicker Josh Scobee, both long-time thorns in the sides of the Colts, came up big once again.
Jones-Drew ran for 177 yards in 28 carries, including a 59-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter that had brought the Jaguars to within 14-10. Scobee, who has had three game-winning kicks against Indianapolis during his career, connected on field goal attempts from 44, 47 and 26 yards. His last kick had given the Jaguars a 16-14 lead with 11:02 left in the game.
"Obviously a devastating loss. Big plays, penalties, knock yourself out. Negative yards plays. You can just go across the board in all three phases," the Indianapolis coach pointed out later. "[There] were a lot of good things also. This one's going to stick in the pit of their stomachs, in all our stomachs, for quite some time. But obviously we're going to have to get over it and move on and get better from here.
"Proud of the guys for fighting their tails off and putting us in a position to win the game. Adam comes back and kicks what you would think would be a game winner. But in the NFL, it doesn't matter how many ticks are left [on the game clock]. Until it reads 0:00, anything can happen. And that's what we found out [Sunday]."
Gabbert completed only 10-of-21 passes for 155 yards on the day and was sacked once by Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis. But the former University of Missouri signal caller did enough to lead Jacksonville to the win.
Luck, meanwhile, was forced to throw more than he wanted to due to an inconsistent running game. He connected on 22 of a season-high 46 passes for 313 yards (also a career-best) and two touchdowns.
"I think maybe just a little lack of focus. I point the finger at myself for some bad decisions. Throwing a ball straight to the Mike [middle] linebacker. A couple passes are behind guys on third down that would have kept drives going," he said afterward.
"I think the finger needs to be pointed at me. I'm sure everybody feels like they have something to clean up. I don't think it's the end of the world. I think there are things that can be fixed. We'll get back to work this off week and try to fix them for the next game."
But it was the third quarter interception by Posluszny that bothered him the most.
"I lost sight of the Mike [middle linebacker]. But all the indicators said that he was going to be there. Very bad decision is what it boils down to," Luck said.
Indianapolis was outgained on the ground by Jones-Drew, picking up 124 yards in 29 rushing attempts. Donald Brown led the way with 62 yards in 18 carries. Luck added 50 yards on four carries, including three scrambles and one designed bootleg.
The worst part of Sunday's loss to Jacksonville is that the Colts have to wait two weeks before they play again. Indianapolis has a bye week coming up and will be practicing three days before getting the weekend off. Green Bay comes to town on Oct. 7.
"It's just one of those deals where you come in the locker room and you're like, 'What are you going to say?' Like anything else, just remember this feeling. Just remember how you feel right now. There's so many things we can do as a football team on both sides of the ball and special teams, across everybody, to make it where we don't even have to be in that position," Pagano voiced.
"We've got a locker room full of guys that are really in shock. We have our 24-hour rule. We'll come in and look at the [game] tape like we always do, make our evaluation of it and get things corrected. We've got to move on. We do have a bye week, which is going to help from a physical standpoint. Try and get some guys back, try and get as healthy as we can. It's a long, long season. We all know that. Like Robert [Mathis] said. 'There ain't no pity party.' Adversity will introduce a man to himself is what I told them. We've got the right guys in the locker room, players and coaches, and we'll come back from this."