- Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts could have at least waited until the second half -- when the interest level would have completely faded -- before having those here-we-go-again moments with their special teams in their 44-20 preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Yes, it's only preseason. But the Colts can't get a pass when they allowed Marquise Goodwin, a former track star at the University of Texas, to go virtually untouched during a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter. That made Goodwin's 53-yard kickoff return in the first quarter seem like nothing. It is something when you're trying to improve in defending that area.
The Colts were 22nd in the league in kick returns last season, with opponents averaging 24.7 yards per return against them.
"You’re not going to give yourself a chance to win any football games by giving up big plays on special teams,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve got to address that and make the necessary adjustments and corrections.”
Here are some other observations from Sunday:
As expected, quarterback Andrew Luck had a brief afternoon. He played the first two series, going 4-for-6 for 51 yards. Luck's passing ability isn't the concern. It's the offensive line's ability to protect him. Bills defensive end Mario Williams easily blew by Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo and flattened Luck for a 10-yard loss. It turns out Luck, who was sacked 41 times last season, took blame on that play. He said it was a cadence mishap, and Castonzo asked him if he was trying to get himself hurt. The Colts mixed it up by running plays with three- and four-receiver sets and with a fullback during Luck's two series.
Tight end Coby Fleener has talked about wanting to make up for his rocky rookie season. He ended up having a rocky preseason debut after a strong start to training camp. Fleener had a nice catch and run in the first quarter only to end up having it go to waste because he fumbled the ball after taking a hard hit from Ron Brooks at Buffalo's 19-yard line. Fleener had a chance to redeem himself seven plays later, when Matt Hasselbeck threw a perfect pass to him in the end zone while matched up one-on-one against a linebacker. Fleener couldn't hold on to the ball. The Colts need Fleener to produce after Pagano announced after the game that fellow tight end Dwayne Allen will be out a couple of weeks with a foot injury. "Disappointing," Fleener said. "To turn the ball over is something that is inexcusable in any case He broke it up. I caught it and then he basically knocked it out. I'm a little frustrated."
Not everything was negative for the Colts. You can thank receiver T.Y. Hilton for providing one of their few highlights. Hilton is showing that he doesn't plan on being left out the picture in the receiver mix behind Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The second-year receiver made a sprawling catch along the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown from Hasselbeck on the final play of the first quarter. Hilton, who lost part of the skin on his wrist on the diving catch, finished with three catches for 61 yards to go with a 15-yard punt return. Luck will have multiple options to go to among Wayne, Heyward-Bey, Hilton, and Fleener and Allen at tight end this season.
The Colts defense caused unease when Bills running back C.J. Spiller rattled off 17 and 15 yards on their first two offensive plays. The Bills ended up with 136 yards on 40 carries, with Spiller and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel accounting for 64 of those yards.
Third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish played part of the second quarter and the entire second half. He spent the majority of the time trying to avoid getting sacked while going 14-for-33 for 109 yards and an interception.
The Colts went into the game without 16 players, including first round pick Bjoern Werner (knee), starters Allen, safety LaRon Landry and linebacker Jerrell Freeman. That list was even longer by the time the game ended. Linebackers Justin Hickman (foot) and Quinton Spears (hamstring), cornerback Cassius Vaughn (wrist) and Montori Hughes (stinger) all left the game with injuries. Spears and Hickman were scheduled for MRIs on Sunday night.