Heading into the season, more than one NFL pundit picked the Indianapolis Colts to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. The team made it within a game of the Super Bowl a year ago, and made a number of veteran additions in the offseason.
However, something became apparent in Sunday's stunning 27-14 smackdown at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. For all the hype surrounding quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts in 2015, for all the additions the team made, the same problems that caused last year's 45-7 annihilation in the AFC Championship Game are still present.
Frankly, Sunday's showdown in Western New York wasn't as close as the score. The Bills raced out to a 24-0 lead, and both of Luck's touchdown passes in the game came after things were well in hand.
In fact, Luck played a big part in digging the Colts into that hole to begin with. The MVP candidate, who turned 26 on Saturday, completed only 26 of 49 pass attempts for 243 yards. His first interception of the game led to Buffalo's first score. His second ended any hope of a Colts comeback.
As Mike Rodak of ESPN pointed out, Luck's first quarter on Sunday fell somewhere between disaster and catastrophe:
Luck didn't make any excuses for his effort according to ESPN. "They beat us pretty bad," he said. "You don't let one game necessarily define you, but that doesn't make it any easier of a pill to swallow."
Of course, it wasn't just Luck who fell flat in Buffalo. All those additions the Colts made in the offseason added up to squat against the Bills:
Running back Frank Gore, who was brought in during the offseason to bolster an erratic (at best) Indy ground game, missed part of the game with cramps and gained all of 31 yards on 10 total touches. So much for balance on offense.
Outside linebacker Trent Cole, whom the Colts signed to jump-start a pass rush that also struggled with consistency a season ago, was invisible, with one assist and zero pressure on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who outplayed Luck in his first NFL start.
Despite all the hullabaloo that accompanied those additions, and the hump those players were supposed to help the Colts get over, the team's performance left Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star with a highly unpleasant case of deja vu:
Those were the Colts’ biggest offseason acquisitions. If the Colts are more talented than last year, if there’s no question about it, it’s because of those new guys. But the only way this game resembled last year was that it was reminiscent of the times the Colts played some of the toughest teams on the schedule – New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh – and decided the best way to handle being punched in the face was to lie down and bleed.
In fact, as ESPN's Trey Wingo tweeted, the entire Indy defense was, um, well...
The Colts were dominated in the trenches. Just as in the AFC title game debacle, the Bills gashed the Colts on the ground, racking up 147 rushing yards. On the flip side, a formidable Buffalo front seven had their way, allowing the Colts only 64 yards on the ground.
The Bills managed just a pair of sacks, but they were in Luck's face all afternoon. The Colts, on the other hand, were barely able to dirty Taylor's jersey.
And as Doyel wrote, therein lies the real problem. The Colts spent big in the offseason, all the while ignoring the fact the emperor had no clothes:
After the (2014) season, the Colts reacted by throwing around money – but not at their problems up front. They threw money and draft picks at skill players. A fancy team got fancier.
There's just no sugarcoating it. The Colts were physically outclassed by the Bills. Dominated, even. On both sides of the ball. Just like in Foxborough in January:
And as Bleacher Report's own Erik Frenz remarked, there aren't any exterior factors to blame this time around:
Granted, it's one game. And make no mistake, the Buffalo defense is no joke.
Wingo did his best to quiet the Chicken Littles:
That worked out OK.
But Sunday at least, all the problems that led to the Colts getting pasted by the Patriots were large and in charge. The inability to run the ball. Or stop the run. And the fits of inconsistent play that continue to dog Luck, even as he tries to cement his place among the NFL's elite at the position.
And that raises an alarming possibility for the Colts in a Super Bowl-or-bust season.
That the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.