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COLUMN

Little to like in Colts' preseason loss to Bills

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1.

T.Y. Hilton comes up big, but Buffalo wins blowout

Monday, August 12, 2013 - 6:39 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Short of an injury to quarterback Andrew Luck, who remains perfectly healthy, nothing in a first preseason game makes or breaks the Indianapolis Colts' season.

But it's still worth noting some things to like and dislike about the first public (resembles a) game of the season. For the record, the Bills beat the Colts 44-20 in the preseason opener Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Here's what I liked and disliked about the Colts' 2013 preseason debut:

Likes

* T.Y. Hilton. After a strong rookie season, Hilton now looks like he could score every time he touches the football. That's apparent especially on punt returns when his speed and quickness is evident, but you sense it in the passing game, too.

Hilton made two terrific catches from his wide receiver spot, including a diving 45-yard touchdown haul from backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in which Hilton hit the ground but kept his hand under the ball.

“(Hilton) is going to do something special when he's on the field,” quarterback Andrew Luck said. “He has that factor to him.”

* Pat McAfee. OK, it's not necessarily encouraging when the second positive that comes to mind is the punter. But McAfee continues to get better each season and he delivered some big boots against the Bills. Always known for his ability to produce distance on his punt, he's gotten stronger at hitting his spots to pin teams inside the 10-yard line.

* Andrew Luck, quarterback. He left without putting any points on the board, but had a drive working that was cut short when a 23-yard completion to tight end Coby Fleener ended with Fleener fumbling after a tough hit.

Luck was sacked once, by Mario Williams, who tore in the backfield without any inconvenient delay by the Colts offensive line. Luck took the blame for the sack, saying his cadence was off, and apologized for making left tackle Anthony Castonzo look back. That's what Luck does well – take the blame and pass the credit. It's a trait that will continue to help his offensive cohesiveness.

“Obviously, we wish we could have scored points and had a little longer drive, but I think there's definitely a lot to take away from the game,” Luck said.

* Vontae Davis, cornerback. Davis, like most first-team defensive players, didn't play a ton of downs against Buffalo. While he was on the field, he showed that he's still fully healthy and came up with one big tackle for loss on a third and goal.

* Delano Howell, safety. He's the least-heralded Stanford product, but he did a nice job on a day when five safeties were inactive. He led the team in tackles and showed some nice closing speed.

* Daxton Swanson's celebration dance. The rookie from Sam Houston State returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown, then busted some moves for the cameras. He might be a rookie but he knows one thing: Get your TV time while you can.

Dislikes

* Fleener's missed touchdown chance. When he fumbled earlier, it was forgivable because training camp hits are no match for the real, full-speed deal. Fleener was sandwiched and not many, if any players, would have held onto the ball in that particular situation. It was a jarring hit.

However, even coach Chuck Pagano felt that Fleener should have caught Hasselbeck's pass over the middle that was knocked away at the last second by linebacker Kiko Alonso. “(We've) got to make those plays,” Pagano said.

* Fullback formation. I saw nothing I liked about it, other than occasionally feeling like it was 1976 again. Cue “The Boys are Back in Town” as background music.

* Special teams coverage. Buffalo's Marquise Goodwin returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown, and the Bills had 181 yards in kickoff returns.

Maybe the team was indeed missing key special teams players such as Joe Lefeged and Sergio Brown, but coverage was poor at best.

*Chandler Harnish's rough day. While Harnish started strong, directing a field-goal drive and hitting seven of his first 11 passes, he took quite a beating from then on. The Norwell High School alum finished with 14-of-33 passing for 109 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

“One of the more frustrating days that I can remember,” Harnish said.

It's tough to be the third-string quarterback, with a makeshift line and third-tier receivers, but Harnish had a bad day and couldn't find his rhythm. He's had a good camp so far, so he can bounce back.

* The Bills' first two running plays of the game. C.J. Spiller broke outside for gains of 17 and 15 yards. “Containing the edge” has been a theme for the defense. They didn't contain much on those plays.

It's important to remember that the one preseason game – or four preseason games, for that matter – means nothing to regular-season success. The Colts in the Peyton Manning era were notorious preseason losers.

It's also safe to say the Colts would like to see a few more positives next Sunday night on the road against the New York Giants.

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.