- Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts were without four offensive starters against the New York Giants Saturday. That didn’t matter because quarterback Andrew Luck was still on the field for the Colts.
Luck led the Colts on scoring drives on three of the four series the first unit was on the field in their 27-26 loss to the Giants. New York trailed 26-0 in the fourth quarter before coming back to win. Punter Pat McAfee missed a 64-yard field goal that would have won the game for the Colts in the final seconds.
Here are some other thoughts on the Colts’ second preseason game:
Receiver Hakeem Nicks made it no secret that was he was looking forward to facing the Giants, who he spent his first five seasons with. He didn’t disappoint, even though it was only a preseason game. Nicks, who was in the role as the Colts’ lead receiver without Wayne and Hilton, caught five passes for 53 yards. Four of Nicks’ five receptions were for first downs, including two on third down. Nicks gives the Colts what they didn’t have last season -- a reliable third receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. Not everything Nicks did was good, though. He hauled in a pass from Luck and turned it into what looked like a 36-yard gain. But right before going out of bounds along the Giants’ sideline, Nicks started waving at cornerback Trumaine McBride. Nicks was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play. Coach Chuck Pagano had a talk with Nicks the next time he went off the field.
Nicks wasn’t the only receiver to play well for the Colts. Rookie Donte Moncrief started opposite Nicks and had a catch for nine yards. The real battle at receiver is between Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen for the fifth and sixth spots. The Colts could end up keeping only five receivers. Both players made their case against the Giants. Whalen, lined up in the slot, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Luck and finished with five receptions for 32 yards. Rogers, who has been outplayed by Whalen and Moncrief so far in training camp, made up for getting called for offensive pass interference by catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the corner of the end zone.
The NFL wasn’t kidding when it said it was going to call illegal contact a lot closer. Colts linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, starting in place of the injured Jerrell Freeman, was called for illegal contact not once but twice in the game. The first one took away an interception by cornerback Darius Butler. The second illegal contact call on Sheppard erased a play where linebacker Bjoern Werner chased Giants running back Rashad Jennings down from behind and held him to no gain. The enforced illegal contact rule, which doesn’t allow defenders to touch the offensive player after five yards, is tough on linebackers because they like to bump tight ends off their route when they go downfield.
So much is rightfully talked about the expectations the Colts have on offense this season. But their defense continues to show it should be an improved unit this season. The unit is faster and pursues the ball aggressively. The Colts’ starting defense held New York’s starting offense to only 53 yards on 20 plays in four series. The Giants didn’t pick up a first down until their third series. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson got the starting unit’s only sack. There was also Butler’s interception and Greg Toler's strip of Victor Cruz that were negated because of penalties.