It was quite a ride, but the car slowed to a halt and the door popped open on the 2012 Indianapolis Colts.
Their roller coaster ended with a letdown as the Baltimore Ravens whipped them up and down the field 24-9 in the playoffs.
What went wrong for the Colts and was there anything they could have done to keep the thrills alive for another week?
A second look at the game tells the story.
The Real Story
Andrew Luck is an incredible quarterback.
That's what the tape shows.
The Colts were manhandled at the line all day, and while maybe Luck wasn't perfect, I don't know many quarterbacks that could have done more with what he had to work with. The hits, sacks and constant pressure would have crumbled most young players and frustrated grizzled veterans.
Luck hung tough and kept chucking.
I'm sure he was frustrated, but his body language stayed positive all game long.
Defensively, the Colts played more or less to their capabilities. They allow 24 points a game on average and gave up 24 points to an average offense. It was a fair performance given the obvious limitations of the weak talent the team has.
The Colts lost because while they moved the ball, they couldn't score touchdowns. Drives stalled as Luck was wasting at least a down every down series with a sack, a throw-away, a drop or just being hit as he threw.
The Colts can be proud of their young quarterback, who will only get better. If the rest of the offensive skill players can raise their game, this offense will be very good very soon.
Luck and Wayne played very well and kept the Colts alive.
One drop at the end of the game aside, Vick Ballard ran hard.
Obviously, Cassius Vaughn's play deserves a spotlight. He was picked on all game.
Virtually the entire offensive line was a mess with pressure coming from all angles.
Donnie Avery was a disaster. He opened the game with a nice end around but had just two catches on nine targets. He didn't get open, and when he did, he dropped the ball.
With the Colts trailing 17-6 in the third quarter, Indy faced a 2nd-and-4 from the Ravens' 4-yard line.
Mewelde Moore took the handoff and appeared to have room to pick up the first down.
He was painfully slow to hit the hole, however, and was tackled for no gain.
The Indy third-down play was incomplete, and they settled for a field goal.
Regardless of anyone's position on Ballard as a full-time starter, the Colts' lack of a quality backup runner at the end of the season proved costly more than once.
This was a largely clean game for Chuck Pagano.
He made the right call in taking a 10-second run off at the end of the first half, eventually setting up a field goal.
You could argue that his decision to kick inside the Baltimore 10 was too conservative, but on 4th-and-4 it's too close to complain about.
His one misstep was a terrible challenge of what was a clear drop by Donnie Avery in the fourth quarter.
As an aside, Clyde Christensen did a terrific job filling in for Bruce Arians. His play calls were often spot-on, and no one can claim the Colts didn't move the ball. Ultimately, the offense failed because the linemen weren't good enough and nothing any OC could do would have helped that.
Keep an Eye On
The Colts' next moves have already been discussed elsewhere, but here's one more thought on the offensive line.
The tricky part about the Indy line is that it was almost entirely brought in by Ryan Grigson.
Grigson didn't have much of a budget to work with, so he can't be held overly responsible for the weak talent. He does, however, have to recognize the players he brought in aren't good enough.
If Grigson invests in and rebuilds the Indy line, it will be a good sign the Colts have a humble leader willing to correct his mistakes.
That would be a terrific sign for Indy's future.
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