For weeks, the winless Colts have claimed to be close to a breakthrough. They look closer to a breakdown.
The Colts were routed 31-7 at home against Atlanta in a loss that was more disappointing than most of the other eight. Even with Peyton Manning out indefinitely after neck surgery, the collapse is shocking for a franchise that expects to compete for a trip to the Super Bowl every year.
"I haven't had nightmares like that in a long time," coach Jim Caldwell said when asked if he ever dreamed the Colts could go 0-9.
"It's not something that you anticipate is going to happen. Indy (0-9) had been competitive at home this season. The Colts were within two points in the second half against Cleveland,
Pittsburgh needed a late field goal to win and Kansas City had to overcome a 24-7 deficit at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This game wasn't close in any way. It was the Colts' worst home loss since a 31-3 defeat to Seattle on Sept. 14, 1997, the year before Manning arrived. Indy was held to 186 yards -- just the second time since the start of the 1998 season the team had failed to gain at least 200 yards of total offense. The Colts only entered Atlanta territory on two possessions, and one of those drives ended when Curtis Painter threw an interception to ex-Colt Kelvin Hayden, a painful reminder of the good old days.
"We just have to be sharper, better on the details than today," Painter said. "Missed a few throws that I normally would have made. Just didn't play well enough to win today. We will come back this week and again try and get those details straight and work hard this week."
Miami's win at Kansas City left the Colts as the only team in the NFL without a victory.
"The thing that we have to do is we have to look at our situation and be honest with it, with everybody," Caldwell said.
"The fact that there are some things that we didn't do well, that's why we didn't win. We kind of look at those situations where we turn it over, and where we aren't effective in terms of our execution."
Jerraud Powers provided Indy's only highlight, a juggling interception he caught at the Falcons 6 before returning it for Indy's only score. That cut Atlanta's lead to 21-7.
But Indy's stagnant offense never got close to scoring again.
"That was a big play," Caldwell said. "Anytime you can get a pick six, that's huge. But we just couldn't follow it up, we couldn't back it up, we couldn't come back and answer with another score to close the gap a little bit and make it 21-14. So, yeah, it was a bit of a spark, but we couldn't put another, good sequence where we could get a scoring drive or another interception or turnover of some sort to get us going again."
Manning still hasn't practiced since having neck surgery Sept. 8, and now the Colts could be without their top two tight ends.
Dallas Clark (lower leg) and Brody Eldridge (hand) both left the game early. Caldwell provided no updates after the game. The Colts have been outscored 75-14 in the first half of the last three games and 120-24 overall in that stretch. They have lost five straight home games for the first time since 2001 and could fall to 0-10 for the first time since 1997.
Atlanta (5-3) won its third straight to keep pace with NFC South-leading New Orleans, and it looked easy. Atlanta's Matt Ryan passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns, and the Falcons ran 41 times for 163 yards.
Julio Jones finished with three catches for a season-high 131 yards and two TDs, and had two carries for 33 yards. His first touchdown was a spectacular diving grab between three defenders for a 50-yard score. His second touchdown was an 80-yarder.
"That was a good win for our football team," Ryan said. "I thought all three phases played well today. We did it for 60 minutes. That's something that we've been trying to do throughout the year."
NOTES: Atlanta is 2-13 against the Colts and earned its first road win in the series, which began in 1966.
The Colts had a video tribute for Hayden between the first and second quarters. Hayden scored a TD on the game-sealing interception in the Colts' Super Bowl win over Chicago. Hayden was cut before training camp opened.
Falcons CB William Moore left briefly in the first half with a thigh injury.
Donald Brown ran 16 times for 70 yards for Indy.
Powers' interception was Indy's first forced turnover in six games.
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