INDIANAPOLIS - Maybe the Colts don’t know where Waldo is, but they had no problem finding Otis.
“I feel I lost the game for my team,” said Patriots cornerback Otis Smith, who was beaten on touchdown passes of 51 and 78 yards to Marvin Harrison in a 30-23 loss to the Colts before 56,828 yesterday at the RCA Dome. “I feel bad for these guys in here.”
Smith, who had injured his foot in practice Thursday and was listed as questionable, found himself a starter at right corner. How in the world did Smith get the responsibility of covering Harrison? “I’m not talking about injuries,” said Smith. “I got beat on two plays.”
There was more to it than Mr. Smith, though his breakdowns greatly contributed.
The Colts had no problem coming back from a 16-7 deficit, stemming the Patriots’ euphoria after a strong first three quarters. Despite allowing the Patriots to control the ball for 39:01 in the game, Indianapolis rebounded in the fourth quarter and sent New England into its off week with a woeful 2-6 record.
The Patriots had an outstanding offensive game plan. J.R. Redmond ran like Edgerrin James, and the offensive line was something like the Denver Broncos’, circa 1998. New England controlled the ball.
“We had a tremendous game plan,” said receiver Terry Glenn, who drew a couple of interference calls on long throws. “They were playing a tough Cover 2, so they didn’t give us the shorter passes, so we had to make plays down the field. We took some shots and we got something out of it.
“To have it end this way . . . “
As Colts coach Jim Mora would say, “Possession of the ball is not a major stat in determining the outcome of the game.” Indeed, the drives that led to the two bombs to Harrison took fewer than four minutes. The 78-yarder was a one-play effort that took 18 seconds.
Frustration oozed from every nook and cranny of the Patriots locker room. Ten of the 20 Colts first downs came in the fourth quarter. Three straight red zone opportunities by the New England offense went for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Willie McGinest spoke of wanting to go into the off week on a positive note. “I’m not going to stop fighting and I’m not going to let anyone else stop either,” he said. Ted Johnson added, “We’re going to find out about our character. The future doesn’t look bright. Being 2-6 midway isn’t pretty. We’re going to find out who the football players are on this team.”
After Harrison beat Smith on the 78-yarder, which pulled the Colts within 16-14, the Patriots scored on an eight-play, 80-yard drive. A big play was defensive back Jeff Burris being penalized 40 yards for interfering with Glenn at the Colts 31. Bledsoe sneaked it in from 1 yard out, and showed a lot of emotion, slamming the ball into the turf and pointing toward the Colts’ bench.
The touchdown play was challenged because the Colts felt Bledsoe was stopped shy of the goal line. But the officials let the play stand and, with 2:27 remaining in the third quarter, the Patriots’ lead was 23-14.
“There was nothing definitive to reverse the call on the field, and by rule, we can’t change the call unless we have something definitive,” said referee Tony Corrente.
But the Colts were beginning to crack the Patriots’ defense. They took advantage of a couple of bad New England penalties midway through the fourth quarter. A roughing-the-passer call on Greg Spires allowed the Colts to march into Patriots territory, and after a James run, Peyton Manning fired three straight passes to Harrison. The third one went right to Tebucky Jones at the goal line, but the ball hit his shoulder pads.
“As soon as I turned, the ball was at me,” said Jones. “They wouldn’t have caught me. It would have been all green.”
Instead, two plays later, James caught a shovel pass for a 1-yard touchdown, a play Johnson thought he should have prevented, and on which James drove through linebacker Tedy Bruschi into the end zone.
Trailing, 23-21, the Colts’ defense was toughening. Booed all day by the fans, it held the Patriots to three plays by stopping Kevin Faulk on a third-and-2 option pitch from Michael Bishop at the New England 28.
After the punt, the Colts took control at their 34, and James broke loose for 16 yards, then 13. With the ball at the Patriots 29, James stumbled at the line, regained his balance, and ran 26 yards to 3. He finished off the drive with a 3-yard run, giving the Colts a 27-23 lead. They attempted a 2-point conversion and failed, but later added a field goal, and the Patriots never were able to get anything going.
“It looked like their game plan was to keep us off the field,” said James. “They did a good job of that, but we knew we would be all right when we had a chance to get going.”
That they did.
The Patriots controlled time of possession in the first quarter, 11:21 to 3:39, but could produce only a 7-7 tie.
The offensive line was powering the Colts’ defense off the ball on running plays. And on pass plays, New England utilized more blockers to protect Bledsoe, including a double-tight end set with Rod Rutledge and Chris Eitzmann.
Redmond was featured on the Patriots’ first scoring drive, one of its best in a while, which covered 89 yards in 18 plays. He accounted for 39 yards (he had 51 in the first quarter), catching a 19-yard touchdown pass from Bledsoe when the Colts left the middle of the field open. The Patriots converted two third downs and one fourth down, the latter on a Bishop 2-yard run on fourth and inches from the Colts 43, in what was a nearly flawless drive.
“We knew it was real important for us to run the ball in order to get things going,” said Redmond, who fell 3 short of his first 100-yard game.
The Colts got even quickly.
Manning, who had a perfect quarterback rating in the game, threw beautifully to an in-stride Harrison (with Lawyer Milloy in the vicinity), the 51-yard play tying the game at 7 with 2:38 remaining in the first. After the play, coach Bill Belichick had a long chat with Milloy.
From there, the Patriots put together two drives of 14 plays and one of 10 that resulted in field goals of 27, 26, and 28 yards to take a 16-7 lead early in the third quarter. But as controlling as their offense was, having to settle for 9 points as opposed to 21 hurt.
“I feel today was a mirror image of the Jets game we played earlier in the year,” said Bledsoe, referring to the 20-19 loss in Week 2. “We came out, moved the ball down the field, were ineffective in the red zone, and had to settle for field goals that could have put points on the board in the end.”
There was all of that, and the wish that the Colts would have found Waldo instead of Otis.