Inconsistent start to season new ground for 2-2 Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts would like to forget about all those missed opportunities in Jacksonville.

Their 2-2 record will be a constant reminder.

What the Colts will see on Sunday's game tape are two red-zone turnovers, a dropped interception that could have at least forced overtime, nine third-down conversions allowed and a time out that gave the Jaguars enough time to reach Josh Scobee's field-goal range.

By December, they may still be kicking themselves for letting this one slip away.

"I lost sleep last night because I was pretty close," cornerback Kelvin Hayden said Monday, referring to the interception he dropped in the closing seconds. "There was nothing but green in front of me, but you've got to make the catch first."

For the Colts, playing catch-up is an unusual predicament.

They've started four of the past five seasons 7-0, the lone exception coming when Peyton Manning was recovering from an infected bursa sac in his left knee. They've won at least 12 games in a league-record seven straight seasons and taken six of the last seven AFC South titles.

No team won more games or made more playoff appearances in the last decade.

But now, instead of putting their division foes in an early hole, Indy is staring at an 0-2 mark in the AFC South for the first time.

"We always say the division games count as two, so starting 0-2 in the division, that's tough," Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea said. "I'm pretty sure we'll get better."

There are plenty of explanations for what's wrong.

While Manning is off to the best start of his 13-year career and just passed John Elway for third in career yards (51,493), even a four-time league MVP can't be expected to rescue Indy every week.

Part of the problem has been injuries.

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Receiver Pierre Garcon has missed two games with a bad hamstring. Receiver Anthony Gonzalez has missed three games with a sprained right ankle. Safety Bob Sanders is expected to miss at least two more months and could be out the rest of the season after having surgery to repair a torn biceps muscle in his right arm. Left tackle Charlie Johnson was slowed during the season's first month by a sprained right foot, and Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday has been playing his way back from August knee surgery.

The bigger concern is a defense that is not playing up to expectations.

Indy's pass rush struggled to pressure Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard just as it did the week before in Denver. The run defense gave up 174 yards to the Jags, the third time this season an opponent has topped 100 yards, and the Colts rank 29th in the NFL against the run.

A week ago, players said they were less concerned about yardage allowed and more focused on holding teams to field goals. Jacksonville, though, scored TDs on all three of its red-zone trips Sunday, and when the defense needed a stop to force overtime, it failed again -- twice.

Manning's 1-yard TD pass to Austin Collie tied the score at 28 with 48 seconds left, and the Jags seemed content to run out the clock. But coach Jim Caldwell called time out after Maurice Jones-Drew's 8-yard gain, hoping to give Manning one more shot in regulation.

Indy forced an incompletion on second down then allowed another third-down conversion. Jacksonville eventually moved into position for Scobee's 59-yard field goal.

Caldwell said Monday he would have done the same thing again.

"First of all, you never know if you're going to get the ball back in those situations, and if we can win it in regulation, we want to do that," he said. "We wanted to get them in a third-down situation, and it was there and we had chances to get the ball, but we never got it back."

The offense had problems, too.

Manning's threw a pass that hit rookie tight end Brody Eldridge right in the hands inside the 5-yard line, but Gerald Alexander broke it up and Anthony Smith pinned the bouncing ball on his ankle for an interception. The play set up one of Jacksonville's TDs.

On the Colts' next series, they were back in scoring position when Reggie Wayne fumbled inside the 10-yard line as he tried to stretch for a first down.

One botched opportunity for points is rare in Indy, but two is almost unthinkable. The turnovers ended Indy's streak of consecutive red-zone possessions with points (26).

"You don't like for them to happen," Manning said Sunday. "When they do happen and there's time on the clock, you have to be able to overcome them and win in spite of them. We had chances to do that and didn't take advantage of them."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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