Colts face a not-so-sweet 16 NFL: At 0-10 and with little schedule relief in sight, Indianapolis could become the league's first team to go winless in a 16-game schedule.

November 16, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Bad karma or lousy chemistry?

Flammable defense or flawed design?

Shaky quarterbacking or a sieve-like offensive line?

There are a ton of theories about what has gone wrong during the Indianapolis Colts' ignominious 0-10 start this season, but there is little relief for the range of feverish symptoms the team has exhibited so far.

How did the Colts fall from one of the AFC's emerging powers -- they were a desperation pass away from the Super Bowl two seasons ago and enjoyed a 4-0 September in 1996 -- to the dregs of the NFL so quickly?

It's a question no one with the Colts can answer.

"I don't have an answer for it," Bill Tobin, the team's director of football operations, said about this year's plight. "If I did, I would have corrected it a long time ago."

Two years after the Colts pressed the Pittsburgh Steelers to the final play of the AFC championship game, they are flirting with infamy.

Not since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in the AFC West in their inaugural season of 1976 has a team lost every game. No team has gone 0-16 since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.

But 0-16 is a distinct possibility for the Colts, given a stretch run that could chew up a playoff contender. Starting with today's game at the RCA Dome against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the Colts play five teams currently tied for their division lead in the final six weeks.

On top of that, the Colts must play four of their last five games on the road. Even with the 4-6 Detroit Lions set for Week 13, the Colts' last six opponents are a combined 38-22 this season.

"The way this year has gone, you wonder what else can happen," embattled coach Lindy Infante told Indianapolis reporters last week. "I'm too busy to try and think about that. You've got to keep plugging away in anticipation that good things will begin to happen."

Nothing good has happened so far. A team that showed the ability to win close games has suddenly lost the touch. From 1994 to 1996, the Colts went 19-13 in games decided by six points or fewer. This season they're 0-6 in those games.

They've lost those six games by a total of 20 points, four by a field goal or less. In five losses, they had possession -- and a chance to win or tie -- at the end of the game.

Two weeks ago, third-string quarterback Kelly Holcomb fumbled on the Bucs' 5-yard line with three minutes left in a 28-28 tie. The Colts lost, 31-28.

In Week 7, Cary Blanchard hooked a go-ahead, 42-yard field goal with 2: 44 left at Pittsburgh. Blanchard had hit 13 consecutive kicks until the miss.

In Week 6, backup quarterback Paul Justin threw incomplete on fourth-and-two at the Jets' 25 with 1: 05 to play in a 16-12 loss.

In Week 1, Blanchard missed three field goals in a 16-10 loss to Miami and the clock ran out with the Colts on the Dolphins' 25.

But the most galling loss was the 37-35 defeat at Buffalo in Week 4. After three weeks without an offensive touchdown, they had run up a 26-0 lead in the second quarter, only to collapse in the fourth.

When they had a chance to tie the game on a two-point conversion with 14 seconds left, officials allowed Bills defender Kurt Schulz to get away with blatant pass interference. The Colts even recovered an onside kick, but an interception snuffed their last chance.

"They're probably the best 0-10 team in history," said cornerback Eugene Daniel, who spent 13 years with the Colts before signing with the Ravens this season. "When you watch them on film, the defense plays hard and they compete in every game."

Daniel had hoped to finish his career in Indianapolis, but instead became one of four starters from last year's defense who was waived or allowed to leave. The Colts declined to match Atlanta's $13 million offer to cornerback Ray Buchanan, waived linebacker Jeff Herrod and lost defensive tackle Tony Siragusa to the Ravens in a four-year, $6.1 million deal.

The Colts go into today's game with six different starters from their 1996 defense and five on offense, including four in the offensive line. That's 50 percent of the starting lineup that went 9-7 a year ago.

"I think that's the main reason [the Colts are losing]," Daniel said. "They're not losing because they don't have talent."

Siragusa pointed a finger of blame at Tobin and suggested part of the problem might be chemistry.

"The changes he made are one of the reasons the Colts are in this situation," Siragusa said. "They're not an 0-10 team by a long shot.

"I thought they made a big mistake letting Ray Buchanan go. I thought getting rid of me was a big mistake. Getting rid of Jeff Herrod, who called every play, I thought that was their downfall.

"He [Tobin] disassembled the defense. When I played there, the defense always kept the team in the game. They lost a lot of character with the guys who left, although there are guys still on the team who have a lot of character."

Here are some other theories on the Colts' 0-10 start:

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