Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers was flat on his back, arms and legs outstretched as if preparing to make snow angels. Only there was no snow inside Lucas Oil Stadium. There was only disappointment for the Colts and Rivers, who had just endured the ignominy of tripping over his own feet and having Ravens safety Chuck Clark hop over the top of him while returning a fumble 65 yards for a touchdown.
The score came late in the first quarter, but in hindsight, it was a sign of how the afternoon would play out for the Colts, who in a disturbing trend were once again unable to meet the challenge against a quality opponent, the 24-10 defeat raising more questions about their legitimacy as Super Bowl contenders.
Despite being 5-3, it’s getting harder to buy into them because their record has been built on a foundation of Jell-O, with victories over the winless Jets, the two-win Bengals and the three-win Vikings and Lions. Overall, their opponents’ .349 win percentage entering Sunday was the lowest in the league.
I’ve never been one to downgrade a team for beating up on bad opponents because teams have no control over the schedule. But if you consistently fall flat when stepping up in competition — Indianapolis is 1-2 against teams with winning records, losing to Cleveland and Baltimore while beating Chicago — you start sliding across the spectrum from contender to pretender, regardless of how often coach Frank Reich claims to have “more conviction” he possesses the right personnel to compete for a championship.
His words on Sunday are likely to be the backdrop for the franchise over the next three games, as the Colts will sandwich games against AFC South-leading Tennessee (6-2) around a matchup against NFC North-leading Green Bay (6-2). How they come out of those contests will likely depend on the play of the offense, which has been as inconsistent as its quarterback.
Rivers arrived in Indianapolis in the offseason seeking to prove his struggles the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers were less about him and more about the circumstances around him. He threw 63 interceptions and fumbled 27 times, losing 10, during that span. More troubling than the turnovers themselves were the times in the game when some occurred: late in one-score games. The Chargers lost nine games by one score or less last season, and Rivers had a turnover in the final 63 seconds of four of them.
Sunday raised more questions about his ball-security issues, as the interception he threw on Indianapolis’ initial second-half series invigorated the Ravens at a time when doubt could have crept in. Consider, nothing had gone right for the Ravens’ offense in the first half. It gained just 55 net yards, and its league-leading ground game was held to 18 yards on 10 carries. The Ravens’ only points were on Clark’s fumble return, and now, to open the second half, the unit had lost a fumble on first-and-goal at the Indianapolis 3-yard line.
Then Good Philip — the guy who was 12 of 19 for 126 yards and no turnovers in the first half; the guy who had thrown for 633 yards and six scores with one interception the previous two games — was replaced by Bad Philip, whose underthrown deep pass to Marcus Johnson was intercepted by Marcus Peters. Ten plays and 54 yards later, the Ravens had their first lead on a 1-yard TD run by Gus Edwards and never looked back.
Baltimore’s final three possessions went touchdown, punt, field goal; Indianapolis’ final four went punt, downs, downs, end of game.