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COLUMN

Colts freefall has no end in sight

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at reggiehayes1.

Return home could be ugly

Monday, October 31, 2011 - 9:10 am

With the season half over, I've run out of novel questions for the Indianapolis Colts. That should work out fine. I don't think they have any answers.

The Colts lost 27-10 to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in Nashville, dropping to 0-8. For once, I was glad I wasn't there to visit the locker room for postgame interviews.

What would I ask? Will you ever win another game? Do you think you're as bad as the Dolphins? How about the 2008 Lions? Have you ever considered telling Joe Lefeged to take LeKnee?

How would you rank special teams play on a scale from 1 to 2, with 1 being poor and 2 being indescribably poor? Did you catch any of the Stanford-USC game Saturday night?

I have to wonder how Colts fans will react when the team returns home next Sunday against the Falcons. They could be supportive. They could be, more likely, restless and annoyed.

Something has to change or this is going to turn ugly. You can't judge a man by the comments he generates on Twitter, but you can judge public sentiment toward him. Colts coach Jim Caldwell might want to request his face not be shown on the big screens at Lucas Oil Stadium. I don't think it will prompt a standing ovation.

As the Colts moved past the initial shock of Peyton Manning being lost for most, if not all, of the season, they seemed to play better. But the shellacking by the Saints gave way to a largely uncompetitive loss to the Titans.

They can cite some areas of improvement, such as Curtis Painter's use of Dallas Clark and some second-half drives. For once, it looked like the offense made halftime adjustments.

But there are too many other problems that outweigh those. Special teams hit a new low with Pat McAfee having a punt blocked for the first time in his career (172 attempts). Lefeged kept bringing the ball out on kickoffs, setting up poor field position. Penalties were too frequent. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took advantage of mistakes like the veteran he is.

I don't question the Colts' effort. Watch a player like Pat Angerer or Delone Carter and you see the hunger. Colts receivers are going over the middle and into traffic and taking hard shots.

Painter tries. He scrambled for his life (he had 79 rushing yards) and first downs. He had tough luck on a tipped interception and he couldn't get a pass interference call in the end zone twice that likely goes Manning's way in the same circumstance.

This mess isn't Painter's fault. He's a backup quarterback playing the way most backups do. He's serviceable. But the offense can't afford to play the conservative style that put them in a 20-0 hole. Painter needs to throw downfield more. If the Colts get him the time, which is tough with the offensive line's revolving door, he can throw with accuracy.

This mess is largely the result of a perfect storm of Manning's unavailability, the Colts' lack of preparedness for his absence and a slew of other injuries and personnel mistakes.

So then it falls on Caldwell and his staff to find ways to generate a spark. They're not doing it.

They need to take some more risks and not settle for a field goal on fourth-and-goal when trailing 20-0. How much bigger would a Painter-to-Reggie Wayne fade-pass touchdown have been than an Adam Vinatieri 22-yard field goal? Sure, it might have failed. But the Colts would have been no worse for that failure in the big picture. You convert on that touchdown, momentum and confidence rises immeasurably. You can't coach with fear of failure.

This is going to get worse before it gets better. The Falcons come in and have the potential to deliver a whipping in Lucas Oil Stadium. Colts fans have so far seen the worst beatings (Houston, New Orleans and Tennessee) from afar.

This coming Sunday will be the fans' first collective chance after three road games to give their public opinion on 0-8 (and counting).

Caldwell might want to bring some earplugs. Colts fans will be more than ready to question everything.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com