INDIANAPOLIS – T.Y. Hilton was among the first to take the blame for Thursday night’s crucial 20-17 loss at Houston.
The veteran wide receiver, returning from a calf injury that sidelined him for the three previous games, was targeted six times and finished with three catches for 18 yards. Two of the missed connections came on third-down plays, with the ball hitting Hilton’s hands both times.
Both passes were tightly defended, and the Texans had a hand in forcing both incompletions. But Hilton, who was on a “pitch count” and played just 25 snaps, was making no excuses.
“I’ve got to make that,” he told reporters at NRG Stadium. “That’s what I get paid for. I’ve got to make it. I let my team down today. One hundred percent on me. I’ll get better.”
During a conference call with local media Friday, Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich praised the four-time Pro Bowler’s accountability but said many other parties share in the blame.
Big plays (and the lack thereof) were the difference in a game that likely will determine the AFC South champion. Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson completed four passes of 30 yards or more, including two touchdowns.
Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s longest completion was for 14 yards, and he finished with 129 yards on 16 completions. It’s the eighth time in 11 games Indianapolis has failed to pass for 200 yards.
“I feel very confident opening (the playbook) up,” Reich said. “We just have to do a better job. When you start talking about effectiveness and efficiency in the pass game, one of the things I have definitely learned over the years is that there are a lot of factors that go into that.
“Obviously, everyone is going to look at the quarterback, but I can promise you as I’m sitting here, there are a lot of factors that go into that. We all offensively share in the responsibility to get more production out of our pass game.”
Reich shouldered some of the blame for his play calling.
He said Indianapolis didn’t do a good enough job taking advantage of intermediate throws with the Texans choosing to play soft zone coverage and take away the deep game. He also wishes he would have called a few more downfield shots.
That’s one element of the struggles. Brissett’s uncharacteristic inaccuracy was another.
He finished 16-of-25, but he missed a wide-open Eric Ebron early in the first quarter and could have led Hilton more on the first of the third-down incompletions. Brissett also threw a few poor passes that were completed but limited the receiver’s ability to make yards after the catch.
The problems in the passing game were underscored by the Colts’ success running the ball. Jonathan Williams gained 104 yards on 26 carries, topping the century mark for the second straight week, and Indianapolis finished with 175 yards and two touchdowns on 39 attempts.
The Colts didn’t turn the ball over and dominated time of possession (33:17), which are both critical elements to their game plan.
But the absence of big plays ultimately cost them.
Leading 17-13 late in the third quarter, Reich admits in retrospect he could have called a more aggressive game. He liked the way the offensive line and running backs were going and the fact they were keeping Houston’s quick-strike offense off the field, but it didn’t work out in the end.
“We didn’t do the things we needed to do to take a two-score lead in that third quarter, early in the fourth,” Reich said. “That’s really when we needed to kind of put the pedal down and win that game, and we didn’t do that.”
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The NFL on Friday clarified the apparent fumble by Watson late in the fourth quarter. Despite the fact no on-field announcement was made, the play was reviewed and it was determined there was no clear evidence of a recovery by Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard.
The on-field call of a fumble recovered by the offense, therefore, stood.
“I think the ruling that the league put out was a fair ruling based on what they saw,” Reich said. “I’ll have follow-up conversations just to ask further questions, but right now I understand and I think it was a fair ruling from what they said.”
Leonard had a slightly different view in the postgame locker room.
“I had it,” he said. “Deshaun said I hit it out. Right after the play, he said it. I mean, even after the game. It happens.”