Colts could have, should have pulled off upset of Eagles

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck pounds the football into the ground after being sacked on fourth down in the final minutes of Sunday's 20-16 loss at Philadelphia.Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck and Colts offense squanders too many scoring opportunities as host Eagles rally late for 20-16 victory.

The Indianapolis Colts should have knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, and on the road at Lincoln Financial Field.

Think about that for a moment.

About the only observation more surprising this day is the reason why the Colts didn’t pull off the upset in a frustrating 20-16 loss.

The Colts offense was, in a word, awful.

Remember how first-year head coach Frank Reich was returning to where he was offensive coordinator the last two years with a Colts offense that ranked No. 1 in third-down efficiency at 60.6 percent? The Colts converted just 2 of 12 and went 1 of 5 in the red zone.

"One for five in the red zone is unacceptable," Reich said. "We just have to learn from it and get better."

The Eagles outgained the visitors 379-209 in total yards.

"We have to learn from our mistakes," Reich said. "We didn't take advantage of some opportunities."

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck passed for fewer than 180 yards for the second consecutive week (164). And hard to imagine, checking that box score twice in disbelief, he attempted 40 passes, too. Luck’s 4.1-yard average per completion is the lowest of his seven-year career. The short-range Colts offense was too short range, to say the least.

"Our defense did a great job of putting us in some awesome situations," Luck said, "and we didn't get enough out of them."

It speaks volumes that the Colts’ best play in a frustrating day of what might have been was an improvised Luck scramble down the sideline for 33 yards. That made him the leading rusher against the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense, which limited rookie running backs Jordan Wilkins and Nyeim Hines to a combined 37 yards on 11 carries.

Seriously, considering the numbers, the Colts shouldn’t have had a chance to win this one in the final two minutes. But there they were, 4 yards away from a go-ahead score, with two shots to get it done.

Luck was too high and wide to T.Y. Hilton on an end-zone fade, then he was sacked for a 16-yard loss.

How the Colts (1-2) even made a game of it is almost as encouraging and surprising, if a positive can be accentuated, as the condemnation of the offense. The guys on defense, led again by the determined efforts of weakside linebacker Darius Leonard, gave the Colts every opportunity to score more.

A week after being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week and Pepsi NFL Rookie Player of the Week, Leonard made 13 tackles and had two of the Colts’ five sacks of Carson Wentz.

Linebacker Anthony Walker intercepted Wentz to give the Colts the ball at the Eagles’ 17 in the third quarter. The offense managed 4 yards and settled for one of three Adam Vinatieri field goals.

The Colts’ Margus Hunt knocked the ball away from Wentz and recovered the fumble to set up another scoring chance at the Eagles’ 13 late in the third quarter. The offense gained 3 yards and out trotted Vinatieri to kick the visitors ahead 16-13.

But the Colts had to be kicking themselves for not taking advantage.

"I know we'll look at the red zone especially and see some areas that we all can improve in," Luck said, "myself very much included in that with the location of some of the throws."

The Eagles (2-1) eventually got their act together enough, with the help of four defensive penalties, to mount a game-deciding, 65-yard drive that required 17 plays and ate up 11 minutes, 18 seconds of clock. Wendell Smallwood scored on a 4-yard TD run with 3:02 remaining.

While defensive players will lament their own mistakes, especially penalties when the Eagles were facing disadvantageous down-and-distance situations, nobody should pin this one on those guys.

"Defensively, we did a lot of good things," Reich said. "We minimized the big plays, kept the scoring down and gave the offense opportunities."

Before this season started, did anyone really think we’d be saying that about a defense that on paper didn’t have a pass rush or a defensive leader?

As it turns out, the Colts can get to the passer. And Leonard, a second-round pick, has played beyond anyone’s optimistic expectations. He’s been nothing short of incredible.

That said, moral victories mean nothing in the NFL. The bottom line is the result.

For as much as the Colts have been rather encouraging in leading all three games in the fourth quarter, they come home a disappointed 1-2. And Reich has to figure out how to get the offense moving the chains again and scoring -- the Colts haven't scored more than 24 points in 14 games, a dubious distinction that precedes their new head coach playcaller.

Some might suggest it’s only one bad game for Luck and his side of the ball. But he has to be better. So do his pass catchers. Wide receiver Chester Rogers and tight end Eric Ebron could have caught TD passes. Rogers was wide open and it would have required a great catch, but Luck’s throw was high. Still, it could have been caught.

And that sums up Sunday for these Colts, who were in position to come away with a statement victory.

"We'll learn from this and get better," Reich said.

The most enduring image is of a frustrated Luck pounding the football on the sod after that fourth-down sack.

Instead of gushing about how the Colts have been so inspiring, we’re left to wonder what could have and should have been.

Sure, the franchise is headed in right direction. But right now, that’s not enough of a satisfying consolation.

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