MINNEAPOLIS – DeForest Buckner sat in front of his locker, shocked, trying to understand what had just happened.
The Colts defense lost a game they dominated.
They had their feet on Minnesota’s collective throats, and for once the Indianapolis defense just kept coming up with the NFL’s so-called big plays, the sacks and turnovers that should close out games.
But the Vikings kept coming, the Colts’ big plays couldn’t break the tide, and by the time the final buzzer sounded, Minnesota had come roaring back for a 39-36 overtime win to extend a 33-0 lead for the biggest comeback at halftime was erased. in NFL history, even bigger than Buffalo’s famous comeback victory over Houston in 1993.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Buckner said.
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He was not alone.
Defensively, the Colts locker room continued to search for answers, explanations for how the lead was slipping away. A few players suggested that Indianapolis had taken its foot off the gas.
“Sometimes when you get lethargic, things like that happen,” security Julian Blackmon said. “History just happened and we’re on the wrong side.”
But there was no consensus on that particular point.
Many more Colts said the defense collapse came down to execution rather than effort. Buckner, middle linebacker Zaire Franklin, cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, even interim head coach Jeff Saturday.
“We didn’t overlook (the Vikings),” Saturday said. “We understood how explosive this offense[is]how many points they scored.”
The Colts agreed on one thing.
Minnesota made no major adjustments, found nothing in the playbook that Indianapolis had not prepared to play.
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A development that makes the reason for the collapse all the more puzzling. Facing the same plays, same looks, the Colts defense played the biggest role in building Indianapolis’ 33-0 halftime lead.
By the time the halftime horn sounded, the Colts defense had tagged Kirk Cousins for three sacks, stopped a promising early Vikings drive when Franklin forced a fumble, Blackmon had singled Cousins for a touchdown, Indianapolis had two fourths down attempts from the Minnesota 31-yard line and the Colts had given up just 82 yards.
Minnesota’s offense seemed completely outmatched.
“In the beginning we did what we wanted, we made every game,” said Franklin. “Then it was just like, one game here, okay, let’s be better. Then one more play here, and before you know it, you’re in that battle.
What’s remarkable is that the Colts defense didn’t follow the same old script for collapse and capitulation this time around. For years, Indianapolis has given up leads because it can’t generate enough passing rush, and in this ugly 2022 season without Shaquille Leonard, the Colts haven’t been able to turn teams around enough to hold onto leads.
But this time, those plays kept coming.
Indianapolis sacked Cousins more times after halftime, four, than the Colts did in the first half. Rodney Thomas II ended a potential Minnesota scoring drive by fixing a pitch miscommunication at the 2-yard line. Even after the Vikings tied the score, the Colts got stops at the end of regulation and the first overtime when Minnesota had a chance to end the game.
“We have to get them off the field in crucial situations,” said Buckner. “Try to create more sales. Some of the pockets, we have to make them pocket fumbles. Real game changing games.
Buckner was told the Colts had finished the game with seven sacks, three turnovers, and conceded only 82 yards of offense in the first half.
Such a statistical profile usually leads to dominance.
“That’s an incredible statistic,” Buckner said. “When I hear that, I am even more in disbelief.”
Indianapolis instead gave up 436 yards and 39 points after halftime.
“I think it was more of us,” Blackmon said. “We got the same looks throughout the game. Of course they tried to open the playbook, they were down 33, so it went 7-on-7, but we have to play at the end of the day.
There are plenty of reasons.
Indianapolis faced 61 plays in the second half and overtime, both because the Colts were unable to get off the field and because the Indianapolis offense failed to put together drives that lasted more than three minutes and 29 seconds.
And it’s not just the fault of the transgression. For every big play the Colts defense made, they gave up another bleeding gain of 64 and 63 yards in the second half. Indianapolis cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Isaiah Rodgers began losing their matchups to Justin Jefferson and KJ Osborn, respectively, after dominating the first half; Jefferson and Osborn combined for 22 catches, 280 yards, and two touchdowns.
“He made some plays. I made some plays,” said Gilmore, who had seven tackles and three pass breakups.
Indianapolis also committed six penalty kicks for 78 yards in the second half.
A few of those calls were questionable, but the umpires probably also cost Vikings cornerback Chandon Sullivan two touchdowns after recovering fumbles that should have gone in Minnesota’s favor.
“A lot of times I feel like a penalty goes the wrong way, and then you get it back,” said Franklin. “A few of the plays were tough, but to be honest, I really feel like it turned out okay.”
But identifying all the bad plays from that game, or from the team’s 33-0 fourth-quarter collapse in Dallas two weeks ago, or the wins the Colts defense gave up to Washington and Pittsburgh, is the easy part. .
Identifying the underlying reasons is much more difficult.
And a Colts defense that’s played a lot of good football this season—much more than Indianapolis’ pathetic offense—can’t find concrete answers for their worst moments, including a comeback that will now go down in NFL history with their names on it wrong. side of the ledger.
All that remains is the feeling, a feeling summed up by Buckner.
“It’s embarrassing,” Buckner.
Embarrassing and seemingly inexplicable.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts vs. Vikings: Defense can’t explain biggest collapse in NFL history