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Peyton’s looming return may have distracted Colts


On Monday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Rodney Harrison said that Monday night’s game would show whether the Colts have the maturity to ignore the return of Peyton Manning to Indianapolis in only six days and focus on the task at hand.

The focus apparently wasn’t there -- especially when it came to catching the football.

There were at least four drops of consequence, one each from tight end Coby Fleener, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, receiver Reggie Wayne, and running back Trent Richardson. For Fleener and Heyward-Bey, the gaffes prevented what would have been (or at least should have been) touchdowns.

“We dropped balls,” coach Chuck Pagano said after the game, via quotes distributed by the team. “They got after us, but still that’s uncharacteristic of our guys to not make the plays they usually make. Looking back over the tape, we’ve got to get it cleaned up.”

“Drops always haunt you and bad throws always haunt you but I got bailed out a couple times by some great catches from Reggie,” quarterback Andrew Luck added, trying to tiptoe around the perception that he’d be blaming the guys on whom he regularly relies to catch passes.

Wayne had no specific explanation or excuse for his mistake.

“I don’t know, just dropped the ball,” Wayne said. “That’s all I can tell you. Nobody wants to go out there and drop balls, miss blocks and make penalties. That is part of the game. We have to correct them.”

Richardson said he was “very surprised” by the drops.

“That’s something we don’t do,” Richardson said. “We have to correct it. From this lesson and taste in our mouth, we beat ourselves. Don’t get me wrong they made a lot of good plays and that’s a good team, but I felt the whole game that we weren’t going to lose.”

Fleener, who has developed a reputation for dropping the ball, realized that he was running with it before he secured it.

“I saw the end zone right behind me,” Fleener said. “I got excited and left the ball behind me. Now I know that’s the difference in the game.”

While no one said it, it’s impossible not to connect the much-hyped, both locally and nationally, return of Peyton Manning to the lack of focus. While Pagano claimed he hasn’t “thought one iota about that right now,” it’s possible that his players got at least a little caught up in the idea that they’d be able to show up and handle a so-so Chargers team before focusing completely on the return of Peyton.

In that regard, it didn’t help that owner Jim Irsay opened the door on looking past the Chargers game by talking last week about the “great tribute” the team will have for Manning when he returns.

It’ll be tremendous,” Irsay said. “They will cheer, as deserved. When he comes back on the field, I think there will be a boisterous standing ovation, as there should be. He means so much to our franchise. It’s going to be crazy, but mostly it’ll be fun. I hope it’s just a great game.”

But there was still a game to be played before it. When the owner speaks and it registers on the national radar, the players and the coaches hear it. While the coaches may have the wisdom and maturity to block it out, good luck getting a locker room full of guys in their 20s to set aside the looming Peytonmania and focus completely and exclusively on the task at hand.

Regardless of the specific reason(s), the focus simply wasn’t there on Monday night.