HOUSTON — The football never looked good coming off the right foot of Indianapolis Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, shanking it wide right of the upright in overtime Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium.
It was a costly misfire after Colts veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, All-Pro running back and reigning NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor, and a resurgent defense manufactured a comeback in a season opener against an AFC South division opponent.
Instead of traveling back to Indianapolis with a victory, the Colts were forced to settle for a 20-20 tie after overcoming a 20-3 deficit in the fourth quarter on three consecutive scoring drives engineered by Ryan.
Colts tie with Texans after missed game-winning field goal
After Blankenship’s miss with two minutes remaining in overtime, Texans running back Rex Burkhead was tackled for a loss of two yards on 3rd-and-1 with 40 seconds left. Houston head coach Lovie Smith opted to punt and accept a draw against a team that swept them by a combined margin of 62-3 last season.
“The snap and hold were great,” Blankenship said. “I just need to do my part and finish it off. It didn’t feel great coming off my foot. Didn’t make contact how I wanted to. I didn’t really hit the ball square and had kind of a lazy follow-through. So, just need to kind of get back into film and review that and make sure that we make the correction for next week.”
In addition to the critical missed field goal, Blankenship kicked two touchbacks on kickoffs to give the Texans better field position, made field goals from 45 and 27 yards, and connected on both of his extra points. Colts coach Frank Reich doesn’t sound inclined to make a change.
“I can’t even begin to think,” Reich said. “In my mind, he’s our kicker. Everybody gets evaluated. Rod has done a lot of good things in the past. If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s, ‘Don’t rush into those kinds of decisions.'”
Matt Ryan: ‘It was a weird game’
In his regular-season debut for Indy after being traded this offseason from the Atlanta Falcons, Ryan was solid outside of one turnover.
Ryan completed 32 of 50 passes for 352 yards and a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Pittman with 1:54 left in regulation that tied up the game and sent it into overtime. Pittman is already the established go-to option, catching nine passes for 121 yards and one score on 13 targets.
Ryan was also intercepted on a screen pass by Texans veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes and lost a fumble. But he overcame a rough start as the Colts trailed 10-3 at halftime.
“This is the first time I’ve tied in the NFL, so it’s strange,” Ryan said. “It was a weird game. Obviously, a lot of mistakes in the first half, really the first three quarters, and then we got rolling in the fourth. You’re disappointed to not come out of here with a win, at the same time, we didn’t lose.
“We’ve got to find a way to tighten things up. But the effort across the board to me is encouraging. I think if we play with that kind of intensity, clean up some of these mistakes and execute a little bit better, there’s a lot of things we can build off of.”
In overtime, Ryan was 5 of 7 for 61 yards and rushed for 10 yards on two runs. He was sacked once and the best chance the Colts had to put the Texans away was dashed by Blankenship’s miss.
“That’s not what wins games,” Reich said. “There’s sloppiness throughout. That’s a fair comment. There was a lot of good. We’ve got to finish drives.”
The Colts were 2 of 5 in the red zone. They had 33 first downs and 517 yards of total offense, but drives kept stalling as they completed just 6 of 15 third downs.
“As a team, we’ve got to be opportunistic when we’re down there and come away with points,” Ryan said.
The interception by Hughes was simply a matter of reading Ryan’s eyes. He played it perfectly.
“It was a good play,” Ryan said. “He was engaged kind of when I let it go and just disengaged as the ball was coming out. So, it’s part of football.
“It sucks because it was a really good call, and I think we had action. I think we had it set up pretty good. I’ve got to find a better passing lane; I’ve got to find a way to make that competition. It was a good play by him.”
Ryan, inexplicably, had two fumbled snaps on the center/quarterback exchange. That was another example of first-game sloppiness.
“It’s just on me,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to get that cleaned up. We will — there’s no doubt about that. I think if we can clean things up, if we can tighten things up a little bit, I think we’ll be just fine, but we need to tighten them up.
“There has to be a sense of urgency to get that done. It needs to be right from the start. Coming back at the end and giving ourselves a chance that’s great, but all of the plays matter. We’ve got to be sharp from the start.”
Wildcat play backfires, Colts disappointed with result
Leading the Texans 3-0 in the second quarter, Reich made an aggressive decision … and it backfired.
On fourth-and-goal, the Colts ran a Wildcat play as a direct snap to running back Nyheim Hines was sniffed out by Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard as he slammed him to the ground for a loss of two yards and a turnover on downs.
“Yeah, it was a play we felt great about coming in,” Reich said. “It didn’t appear like they lined up on defense correctly. I give Lovie Smith a lot of credit. They had their defensive end do something that messed with us. He gave us a false indicator, something we had not seen from them, so that’s really a credit to Lovie Smith.
“They outcoached us and outplayed us on that play. That’s a play we’ve had a lot of success with. We don’t run it a ton, a couples times a year, but it’s been successful almost every time we’ve run it. It felt like it was the time to go for it.”
It was an awkward feeling for the Colts — tying a team that finished 4-13 a year ago tends to go that way.
Despite Taylor rushing for 161 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per run and Ryan’s strong second half, the Colts didn’t meet their objective.
“I don’t know how to feel,” Hines said. “I feel incomplete. I feel like I got broken up with, then we got back together. It’s a cycle of that. You ever been in a toxic relationship? That’s what I feel like: a cycle of that.”
The Colts entered this season with high expectations.
This isn’t the kind of regular-season debut they envisioned after jettisoning former starting quarterback Carson Wentz and moving on with Ryan. This is a step back from what the Colts are aiming for.
“Obviously, very disappointed with the results of the game,” Reich said. “We really came here to be 1-0. That’s our whole mantra. That’s what we do. We did not attain that goal today. I saw a lot of good things, though. There’s obviously a lot to clean up. We couldn’t finish drives — had mistakes in all three phases.
“At times, just had too many penalties. I think we were not a disciplined team today. We can do better there. We can coach better and play better there. In the second half, really through three quarters, defense held us in there some, and then offensively, we got it going in the fourth quarter, did a lot of good things, and I am proud of that. I am proud of the way we fought back.”