Fourth loss arrives early for Manning, Colts

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
10:37
PM ET
Peyton ManningJim Rogash/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning passed for 396 yards, but also three interceptions, including one his final throw.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Devin McCourty had just intercepted a pass intended for Pierre Garcon. The Colts were down 14 points in the third quarter. Peyton Manning was understandably unhappy.

He wore that Manning grimace and repeated that Manning head shake as he walked to the sideline, settling near offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen. Hands on hips the two talked, side by side, facing the Patriots' offense on the field. Soon the pictures arrived, and the dissection started.

Manning and the Colts rebounded in a big way from there at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The quarterback found Blair White for two touchdowns in a span of 3 minutes, 11 seconds and Indianapolis was improbably back in it, with the ball and a chance to win or tie at the end.

But when it came time for that score, the Colts couldn’t find it. Manning’s deep ball up the right side for Garcon wasn’t deep enough. James Sanders went up and grabbed New England’s third interception, sealing a 31-28 win.

Manning’s perturbed meter was well beyond grimace or head shake level after the game.

“If you’re asking if I’m stewing about it right now, the answer would be yes,” Manning said not long after it was over, and not long before he sat in front of his locker in his suit, head down, angry.

His Colts have lost four games or fewer eight times in his 13 seasons, including the last seven. Now they’re 6-4 with six more left to play.

A team built on meticulousness was simply too imprecise on the road against a top team to pull it off, just like two weeks ago in Philadelphia when a field goal could have won it but Manning threw a late pick.

If the 14th head-to-head game of the Manning-Tom Brady era is played this postseason, it will almost certainly be played in frigid Foxborough, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

“They’ve won numerous Super Bowls,” wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “We’re trying to win numerous. Me personally, I kind of feel like we’re kind of chasing them a little bit. And to catch them you’ve got to beat them. Each time we play them it’s always tough. We almost got it done. But that’s the way it goes. Hopefully we do what we’ve got to do and we see them later.”

The play that ended the Colts’ hopes was a first-and-10 from the New England 24-yard line that started with 37 seconds on the clock and Indy still holding two timeouts.

Manning said he looked to Garcon because he was one-on-one with McCourty in press coverage. But rushing linebacker Jermaine Cunningham closed on Manning and if he didn’t graze or bump him he at least affected his throwing motion. There wasn’t enough on the ball to beat Sanders.

“It was a bad throw, I certainly didn’t get everything on it that I wanted,” Manning said. “… I’m just sick about not extending the game, there’s just no excuse not to extend the game there, give [Adam] Vinatieri a chance at a field goal. We were going for the win, we had some time, we had some timeouts and felt like we had a good play called.

“It was just a poor throw and it’s just really, really sickening.”

The Colts allowed New England six third-down conversions in six first-half chances. Through three quarters, they allowed 5.2 yards a carry while gaining only 1.3 yards a carry themselves. And they failed to do anything to offset Manning’s three interceptions with no takeaways.

Tyjuan Hagler had the best chance, but an errant Brady pass around the New England 40-yard line with about 2:32 left bounced right off the nickel linebacker.

The Colts are built to play from ahead, which allows two of their best defenders, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, to rush a passer trying to forge a comeback. But against the Eagles and Patriots the Colts have played from behind.

Manning with possession and time at the end of the game is still typically a pretty good formula. But it hasn't been working.

“Usually that’s one of our strong suits, we’re able to move the ball,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think you saw it in the previous drives. But we just didn’t finish it like we typically do.”

Manning said the Patriots managed to disguise things and confuse him, creating the two earlier interceptions. He absolved Garcon on plays where it seemed there was miscommunication and the receiver might have gone to the wrong spot.

“New England was really mixing them up, moving around,” Manning said. “So I had a couple misreads on the coverages.”

Tied with Jacksonville at 6-4 atop the AFC South, the Colts are actually down a tiebreaker to the Jaguars because of a loss in Jacksonville on Oct. 3.

Six other AFC teams have a record as good as or better than the Colts, who play host to San Diego next Sunday night. They’ve lost four of their past five games against the Chargers.

Before the team boarded their bus and headed for the airport, cornerback Kelvin Hayden mentioned how Tennessee and Houston had lost too.

The Colts, 10 games into the season, monitoring the results of the rest of the division? Given their record this decade, it seems unnatural. For those who’ve endured heartbreak by Manning’s hands, it’s surely enjoyable.

“We have high expectations,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “So four losses before Thanksgiving is awkward. But if you look at it, we’re still first in the AFC South. If we win, if we take care of what we need to take care of, we get to the playoffs, and once you’re in the playoffs it’s a new season.”

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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