Colts' supporting cast can't do little things right, contributing to loss

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Peyton Manning's supporting cast helped him reach Super Bowl XLIV.

The Indianapolis Colts' inability to do the little things right Sunday left all of them empty-handed.

From the dropped passes to the missed tackles, the failure to recover an onside kick to Manning's game-sealing interception, the Colts blew chance after chance against the New Orleans Saints.

The result: Saints 31, Colts 17.

"I can't say we ever saw that coming at all," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "They just outplayed us."

It was the first time all season that they could definitively say that. After all, this was the can't-miss Colts.

After breaking the NFL record with 23 consecutive regular-season wins, setting the league record for most victories in a decade (115) and giving up a shot at a perfect season, Indianapolis had only one goal: earning another ring.

Well, that quest can start again next season. The Colts got it all wrong in Miami.

Indy's young receivers, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, both failed to come up with big third-down catches. Reggie Wayne had just five catches for 46 yards and failed to make it into the end zone.

Star quarterback Manning made an uncharacteristic gaffe, too, throwing a ball straight to Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, who jumped Wayne's route and ran it back 74 yards for the decisive touchdown.

"He made a great play, he just made a great play, that's all I can say," Manning said.

The Colts' defense had its own problems.

All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney was the only pass rusher to put consistent pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. And Freeney was playing with a torn ligament in his right ankle, which became more problematic in the second half after it stiffened up.

The Colts also repeatedly missed tackles, allowing the Saints to pick up extra yardage and keep driving for scores.

To be denied

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None of it went according to the plan.

"What we did do well was take away the big plays," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "What we didn't do well was wrapping up."

One of the decisive miscues came on special teams.

Hank Baskett had a chance to make the Saints pay when they opened the second half with a surprise onside kick, trailing 10-6. The little-used receiver got his hands on the ball, but he let it bounce away, and New Orleans recovered to set up a TD drive.

Baskett's wife, reality television star Kendra Wilkinson, was so upset that she walked to the back of her suite. Baskett didn't take questions after the game. Teammates, however, called it the turning point.

"As the special teams captain, I felt like we didn't do the little things right," safety Melvin Bullitt said. "If we do, we're getting the ball there at the (Saints') 40, and it might have been a totally different game."

But the way the Colts played, it might not have mattered.

After New Orleans kicked its first field goal early in the second quarter, Garcon dropped a third-down pass that hit him in the shoulder. Indy ran only six plays in the period and didn't pick up a first down.

There was more of the same in the second half.

Collie was stopped for a 3-yard loss on second-and-8, a play that Manning bemoaned could have have gone for a first down had the rookie turned upfield. Manning came right back to Collie, who couldn't catch a third-down pass.

On the Colts' next series, Porter picked off Manning, and the Saints led 31-17 with 3:12 to go.

"You never know how it's going to turn out," said Manning, a former Super Bowl MVP. "The Colts started hot, the Saints came back. We just didn't play well enough at certain times and in certain phases. The Saints deserved to win."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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