General manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano, both in their first year with the Indianapolis Colts, fully understand that the early stages of a franchise’s rebuilding process are often the most painful to watch. There are going to be growing pains along the way as a youthful roster matures.
That fact, though, doesn’t make the outcome of Sunday’s regular-season opener with the Chicago Bears any easier to swallow. With quarterback Jay Cutler connecting on 21 of 35 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns, a veteran Bears squad took full advantage of Colts mistakes en route to a 41-21 win at Soldier Field.
Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, as expected, faced a heavy pass rush for most of his National Football League regular-season debut. Playing behind a retooled offensive line that featured three new starters, Luck was sacked three times, threw three interceptions and lost one fumble. He played the entire game, completing 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards and a TD.
His numbers are comparable to the statistics Peyton Manning compiled in his first regular-season game as a rookie in 1998. Manning connected on 21 of 37 passes for 302 yards, three interceptions and a TD in a 24-15 home loss to Miami.
Reggie Wayne was Luck’s favorite receiver, hauling in nine passes for 135 yards. Rookie tight end Coby Fleener added six receptions for 82 yards. Adam Vinatieri missed a 37-yard field goal attempt just before halftime.
Defensively, free safety Antoine Bethea had nine tackles while cornerback Jerraud Powers added six stops. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis had a pair of sacks.
Brandon Marshall, who had a league single-game record 21 catches against Indianapolis in 2009 while playing for Denver, caught nine passes for 119 yards and a TD for Chicago.
“First of all, credit Chicago. They played extremely well. They did a nice job. I’m never going to discount the opponent. They’re a well coached football team. They have a lot of good players on both sides of the ball and special teams. Credit them with playing well,” Pagano said afterward.
“Certainly we can’t come in and shoot ourselves in the foot and have five turnovers and have those kinds of things happen to us. There’s obviously bright spots out there. We were able to move the ball at certain times up and down the field. We got blitzed there in the red zone and near that area a couple of times. Ended up turning the ball over and didn’t come away with any points.
“It was disappointing at the half. We had a two-minute drive there and unfortunately Adam [Vinatieri] slips on the turf. He’s automatic from anywhere on the field and has been for his entire career. He winds up slipping and missing that chip shot. That’s more due to the turf than him slipping.”
The Colts trailed 24-14 at half as Cutler, after getting off to a slow start, began to methodically pick apart the Indianapolis defense. Chicago scored on a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs by Michael Bush, a 2-yard pass to Marshall and a 35-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
After beginning the game by completing just one of his first 10 pass attempts, the former Heritage Hills signal caller found his range and kept the Colts off-balance for most of the first half. He wound up connecting on 15 of 27 passes over the first two quarters.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman took advantage of Cutler’s second pass of the game, jumping in front of running back Matt Forte on an attempted screen and returning the interception three yards for a TD. Freeman, who was filling in for injured starter Pat Angerer, gave the Colts an early 7-0 lead. Donald Brown added an 18-yard touchdown with 3:17 remaining in the second quarter.
Forte pushed the Chicago advantage to 31-14, scoring on a 6-yard run with 11:52 left in the third quarter. The Bears, after holding Indianapolis’ offense in check to begin the quarter, marched 55 yards in four plays for the score.
Rookie wide receiver LaVonn Brazill fumbled the kickoff after the Chicago touchdown, giving the Bears the ball at the Indianapolis 12-yard line. Gould added his second field goal of the day, knocking in a 26-yard kick with 10:02 left in the quarter, pushing the lead to 34-14.
Luck’s lone touchdown pass, a 4-yarder to wide receiver Donnie Avery, narrowed the margin to 34-21 with 10:20 left in the game. Cutler, however, closed things out when he fired a picture-perfect 42-yard scoring pass to rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey in the back of the end zone with just over six minutes remaining.
“As I told the guys, there are going to be tough days like this. We’ll go back and look at the tape. Evaluate it and try to find all the good things we can find. And then look at the areas where we need to make improvement,” Pagano said.
“Early on we just couldn’t get off the field. To come out in the second half and have the ball and go three-and-out … and then have a few opportunities, give up a few big plays and have [Chicago] score a touchdown on us, it made it tough. But the guys, they hung in and they kept fighting. We just couldn’t get a stop when we needed it. We’d end up scoring and then they’d come back and drive the football down the field on us. We’ve definitely got to address that.”
n Injury list — Defensive end Dwight Freeney left the game in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle. He did not return. Offensive tackle Winston Justice was also sidelined for most of the game with a head injury.
Bethea, defensive end Corey Redding and Wayne all left the game for brief periods but were able to return.
“Lost Dwight early in the ball game. He’s got an ankle injury. We’ll get back and I’m sure they’ll do an MRI on Dwight and see what the severity of that is. So he’ll be day-to-day,” Pagano said. “And then we had Winston Justice go out with a concussion and wasn’t able to return. So we’ll monitor him and see how that goes.”
Bears 41, Colts 21
Indianapolis 7 7 0 7 — 21
Chicago 7 17 10 7 — 41
Ind—Freeman 4 interception return (Vinatieri kick)
Chi—Bush 1 run (Gould kick)
Chi—Marshall 3 pass from Cutler (Gould kick)
Chi—FG Gould 35
Ind—D.Brown 18 run (Vinatieri kick)
Chi—Bush 1 run (Gould kick)
Chi—Forte 6 run (Gould kick)
Chi—FG Gould 26
Ind—Avery 4 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick)
Chi—Jeffery 42 pass from Cutler (Gould kick
First downs 22 26
Total Net Yards 356 428
Rushes-yards 15-63 33-114
Passing 293 314
Punt Returns 2-12 1-23
Kickoff Returns 4-73 2-49
Interceptions Ret. 1-4 3-63
Comp-Att-Int 23-45-3 21-35-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 3-16 2-19
Punts 5-51.4 5-41.6
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-19 7-48
Time of Possession 24:32 35:28
RUSHING—Indianapolis, D.Brown 9-48, Luck 2-9, Ballard 4-6. Chicago, Forte 16-80, Bush 12-42, Cutler 4-(minus 4), Hester 1-(minus 4).
PASSING—Indianapolis, Luck 23-45-3-309. Chicago, Cutler 21-35-1-333.
RECEIVING—Indianapolis, Wayne 9-135, Fleener 6-82, Avery 3-37, Adams 2-26, Moore 1-11, Brazill 1-10, Jones 1-8. Chicago, Marshall 9-119, Jeffery 3-80, Bennett 3-50, Forte 3-40, Hester 2-27, Adams 1-17.