Colts suffer shocking loss to Dolphins as Vinatieri, Ebron, Hoyer struggle

Jim Ayello

INDIANAPOLIS -- Earlier this week, Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich vowed his team wouldn't get caught looking beyond the lowly Miami Dolphins. Their pitiful 1-7 record and the talk of tanking that surrounded them didn't matter, Reich said. Coming off a mistake-laden loss in Pittsburgh, the Colts couldn't afford to look past anyone. They needed a win. They were hungry for one. 

Turns out, Reich made a promise his team couldn't keep. After watching 60 minutes of football Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, if not for their uniforms, it would have been impossible to discern which team entered 1-7 and which was supposedly a contender for a division crown. 

The Colts, without starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett, certainly played like the former and were delivered the loss they so richly deserved. Miami handed them an embarrassing 16-12 defeat on their home turf, and now the Colts will have to scratch and claw to get back in the AFC playoff picture after surrendering their scheduling advantage over the Texans.

The blame could be passed around with ease. The backup quarterback was miserable. The kicker failed to do his job yet again. The offensive line only seemed to awaken from their two week slumber in the second half. 

It was a downright dreadful game that the Colts deserved to lose. Here are a few observations from Sunday's game: 

Horrific Hoyer

For as good as Brian Hoyer was in Brissett's stead against Pittsburgh, he was almost equally as bad Sunday. The Colts backup -- thrust into the starter's role when Brissett was ruled out on Saturday -- finished Sunday 18-for-39, 204 yards to go along with a touchdown and three interceptions. 

There were a lot of bad passes to point to. Too many overthrows to count. However, let's take a look at some of the interceptions. 

The first probably wasn't Hoyer's fault. He threw a beautiful pass to Eric Ebron in the back of the end zone that the tight end allowed to slip through his fingers into the hands of safety Steven Parker. 

But there was no excusing the second interception or the cavalcade of misfires that came before and after it. 

That interception pick was brutal, not only because he telegraphed it and lobbed it well over Ebron's head into the hands of Bobby McCain, but because it led to the Dolphins only touchdown of the game. 

In the second half, Hoyer was perhaps worse. He threw a touchdown pass to Jack Doyle, though it came after Darius Leonard's interception that set he and the Colts offense up in Dolphins territory. 

After that, however, he tossed an interception inside his own territory that allowed the Dolphins to extend their lead from 13-12 to 16-12. 

That difference proved critical when Hoyer was unable to lead the Colts on a game-winning touchdown drive. The drive came to a halt on the Miami 16 when Hoyer three consecutive incomplete passes before finding Eric Ebron for an 8-yard gain when they needed 10 yards for a first down. 

All in all, it was among the worst performances a quarterback has put forth in this town in some time. 

Darius Leonard

If not for the second-year linebacker's heroics, the Colts might not have even had a chance to win Sunday's game. The fact that they somehow only lost by four points in largely due to the heroics of Leonard, who bounced back from a rough outing against Pittsburgh last week. 

His end-game stat line reads like that of the All-Pro that he is. 

He finished with 13 tackles, including two for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble, an interception and two passes defended. 

In other words, "The Maniac" lived up to his nickname. 

His phenomenal game began when he halted the Dolphins progress by forcing a Mike Gesicki fumble on the first drive of the game. Leonard chased down the Dolphins' nimble tight end and punched the ball out of his hands, allowing Kenny Moore to dive on it. 

He later recorded a sack against a surprisingly shifty Ryan Fitzpatrick, before intercepting the Dolphins quarterback in the third quarter to set up the first of the Colts two second-half touchdowns. 

Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron (85) juggles a pass intended for him, Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019.

Walking the walk?

He called for the ball. He proclaimed the Colts a better team with him on the field. He asked for the eyes of the Colts kingdom. He got everything he wanted, and his failure to deliver in the first quarter is one of the biggest reasons the Colts lost to the lowly Dolphins on Sunday.

If Ebron had hung onto that Hoyer pass in the back of the end zone, the Colts jump out to a 7-0 lead, and who knows how things turn out from there? Instead, Ebron let the ball slip through his fingers and into the arms of his defender. 

For the game, Ebron was targeted 12 times but caught just five of them, dropping at least two passes, including the one would have been a touchdown. 

In a game the Colts played without Brissett and two of their best weapons in T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, they needed Ebron to be the focal point of their passing attack. Indeed, he asked for that responsibility, and they gave it to him. It might be the last time they do so. 

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