Horseshoe Hero: Colts Fall to Bears in Regular Season Opener

Colts 21 - Bears 41

The Chicago Bears outplayed the Colts on both sides of the ball Sunday, resulting in a 20-point loss for the Horseshoe in the teams’ first outing of the regular season. Injuries on both offense and defense exposed the Colts’ weaknesses, and the highly-touted young offensive weapons failed to get much momentum going behind a paper-thin offensive line that had Luck under pressure all afternoon. The team will certainly hope for a better showing next week against Minnesota. Nonetheless, there are a few positives to take from the effort. Horseshoe Hero has for you the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Colts’ first loss of 2012.

Defense

Things certainly started out looking like the Colts might get their way. The first play from scrimmage resulted in a Robert Mathis sack of Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler. Then the Horseshoe became the first team to get points on the board after first-year linebacker Jerrell Freeman intercepted a Cutler pass intended for running back Matt Forte and ran it back 4 yards for a touchdown, putting the Colts up 7-0.  From there, things would go downhill.

Already without star linebacker Pat Angerer, the Colts lost Dwight Freeney late in the first quarter to what was initially determined to be an ankle sprain. The defense would go on to yield 428 net yards (114 rushing, 314 passing) to Chicago, who was able to average a 6.1-yard gain per play. More frustrating is that the Colts defense allowed the Bears to dominate the time of possession, 35: 28 to 24:32.

Offense

Unfortunately, Andrew Luck is indeed mortal. Pressured throughout the afternoon, he made several bad decisions and rushed 3 throws that resulted in costly interceptions. However, Luck did throw for over 300 yards – 309 to be exact – and a touchdown, clearly showing signs of greatness. The eeriest part of Luck’s regular season debut was how similarly it compares to Peyton Manning’s debut in 1998. In fact, only 7 yards separate Luck and Manning’s debut stat lines. Manning threw for 302 yards in his very first game, and he too had 1 touchdown pass and 3 interceptions. You just can’t make those kinds of things up.

Veterans Reggie Wayne and Donald Brown led the way for the offense on Sunday afternoon. Wayne was targeted a team-high 16 times and caught a team-high 9 passes for 135 yards. He single-handedly led several drives downfield, proving that he’s still as good as ever 12 years into his career. Wayne has been a staple on the offense for quite some time, but Brown has been a bit less reliable since the Colts drafted him in the first round in 2009. But Brown might finally be emerging as the go-to back he has always been expected to be. He rushed for 48 yards – including a touchdown – on 9 carries. While Brown had difficultly finding holes, most likely a result of an incredibly porous offensive line, when he could get through he was pretty efficient.

Surprisingly, rookie tight end Coby Fleener was Luck’s second-most targeted receiver. He had 10 passes come his way, and he caught 6 of them for 82 yards. Fleener was not targeted much in the preseason, but he and Luck have quite a history, for the two played together at Stanford. They should continue to build upon their chemistry as the season progresses.

While Donnie Avery did drop several key passes, his 4-yard touchdown catch in the 4th quarter got the Colts somewhat back in the game.

Special Teams

The unsung hero of the Colts continues to be punter Pat McAfee. Charismatic and unforgettable off the field (He hosts his own radio show, is a Twitter icon, and hosts the Colts’ weekly interview segment “Facebook Friday.”), many fail to realize McAfee’s impact on the field. McAfee averaged 42.8 yards per punt, including one particular bomb that went 63 yards downfield. McAfee can help the Colts offense dig themselves out of holes on unproductive 3-and-out drives. Adam Vinatieri, meanwhile, uncharacteristically missed his only field goal attempt of the game. I’m not concerned, though. The Pro Bowler did not miss a field goal all preseason, including a 53-yard score through the uprights at Pittsburgh 3 weeks ago.

The Colts have a lot to improve on, but if Luck continues to progress at the same rate as Manning did in 1998, fans will not have to wait long to see some wins.

Check back next week for a recap of the Colts’ second outing – and first home contest – against the Minnesota Vikings. For more Colts news, you can follow me on Twitter at @catierae08. Go Colts!

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Tags: Andrew Luck Chicago Bears Coby Fleener Donald Brown Indianapolis Colts Jerrell Freeman NFL Pat McAfee Reggie-wayne Robert Mathis