The Indianapolis Colts were flying high entering the postseason and were promptly grounded Saturday.
The Colts' offense, succeeding in a variety of fashions through the final 10 weeks of the regular season, couldn't gain ground in any way for the majority of the first half their 31-13 loss to the Chiefs. Indianapolis didn't earn a first down until Andrew Luck connected with Eric Ebron for a 21-yard gain at the 1:40 mark of the second quarter. That possession, Indianapolis' best of the day up to that point, didn't produce any points.
Instead of Marlon Mack pounding the ball on the ground, it was Kansas City's Damien Williams who racked up 129 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Luck, who finished with a line of 19-of-36 passing for 203 yards, didn't throw a touchdown pass until midway through the fourth. And even then, Adam Vinatieri missed the extra point, one of two missed kicks on the day.
Mack finished with 46 yards rushing on just nine carries, as the Colts were forced to throw from a fairly early point in the game. Consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, followed immediately by Chiefs touchdown drives, didn't help their cause. Neither did the Colts' 10 penalties for 70 yards.
"It's hard to give that team that start," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "It's beyond me how we've been so good early in the game, generally speaking, the whole year. I just credit their defense. There wasn't really anything specific that they did differently. We got into a couple third and medium situations that we just normally are going to convert, most of those, and we didn't.
"Some of it was execution on our part. There was one call that I just thought was not a great call, not the right play, and then they were taking advantage of it on the other side. And then still, even all that, we fought back and really were still thinking we had a chance. We had a chance and just could not overcome the mistakes."
When it came to calls, it was clear the Colts struggled in part because they couldn't dedicate a healthy portion of their offense to the ground game. A week after Mack racked up 148 yards, the Colts ran the ball just 14 times. And too often when dropping back to pass, Luck didn't get the time to throw he's become accustomed to enjoying. Basic four-man rushes accounted for 66.7 percent of Kansas City's pressures logged Saturday, and two of their three total sacks, per Next Gen Stats. Overload rushes on the right side left Braden Smith looking like the rookie he is at times, and had Justin Houston matched up with right guard Mark Glowinski.
Advantage: Houston, who finished with two sacks.
The early hole knocked Reich out of his play-calling rhythm, and the Colts' offense shrunk. Passes became short, the run understandably disappeared, the offense lacked pacing and the results were predictably disappointing. Indianapolis lost the time of possession battle badly, with Kansas City owning the ball for 39:49 of 60 total minutes. The Chiefs nearly doubled the Colts in multiple major categories, including total yards (433-263) and first downs (29-15).
"They outplayed us," Reich said dejectedly. "They outplayed us ... in all phases."
When combined with the defense's inability to legitimately string together stops, Indianapolis looked overmatched and too green for Divisional Round success. Simply, very little was working, and there wasn't time to go back to the drawing board.
"I felt like we had a good week, felt like we had the stuff," Reich said. There was a lot of juice flowing with the team, a lot of momentum, a lot of good things going on. Obviously playing a lot of good football. Came into a tough environment against a very good team and just did not get it done."
There will be plenty of time now for a Colts team that is brimming with potential. GM Chris Ballard is a legitimate Executive of the Year candidate thanks to dedicating himself to addressing needs instead of making the sexy picks, choosing rookie All-Pros in guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard. Indianapolis has plenty of which to be proud and upon which to build entering 2019.
For one Saturday in January, though, their juice wasn't enough. The new year is now for reformulating for an even better return.