EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** The Indianapolis Colts are difficult enough to stop when a defense plays superbly. On Monday, the Giants discovered it's virtually impossible when the opposition is off its game.
The Giants missed at least four chances to take away the ball, didn't line up or recognize what was happening quickly enough on some critical plays and allowed too many receivers to run free. Taking advantage of those gifts, quarterback Andrew Luck picked them apart, throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns – each to a different receiver – in the Colts 40-24 victory in MetLife Stadium. He tossed three of the touchdowns in the decisive third quarter.
The final score was as deceptive as some of Luck's play-action fakes. Adam Vinatieri kicked four field goals as Indianapolis jumped out to a 40-10 lead in the fourth quarter before two Giants touchdown narrowed the final margin.
"We knew full well the explosiveness of this team, the production of the quarterback, etcetera, etcetera," coach Tom Coughlin said. "I thought we were still battling and in it at the half, even though we only had the three points. We felt pretty good the way we were playing on defense. But they took it and drove and scored the first two times they had the ball (in the second half) and then we contributed with the fumble that they ran down inside the five and scored there, too. I did think that we played hard. We had a little bit of a lull when they started to run the ball on us but we came back, we bounced back and held them to a field goal there. Everything was too little too late."
Or not good enough. The Colts fumbled three times and the Giants were unable to recover the ball on any of them. Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie each had relatively routine opportunities to pick off Luck passes and none of them made the play.
Those proved to be pivotal as the Giants lost their third in a row and fell to 3-5.
"We were unsuccessful," Rolle said. "I feel like, as players, we have to help ourselves. When an opportunity presents itself, we have to come out and make the plays. We have to win one-on-one matchups and we didn't do that today. It's just getting repetitive. We've got to find a way to make it right."
Luck completed 25 of 46 passes in becoming the first quarterback to throw for four touchdowns against the Giants since Cincinnati's Andy Dalton two years ago. Eli Manning countered by completing 27 of 52 passes for 359 yards and touchdowns to Larry Donnell and Corey Washington. But he played from behind all day and the offense mirrored the defense by dropping passes, with Donnell, Rueben Randle and Preston Parker the primary culprits.
View the best photos from the game vs. the Colts
Indianapolis' touchdowns were scored by Coby Fleener, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen, and each came with its own story of frustration for the Giants.
It began early in the second quarter, when the Colts took possession on their own 32 (after Griff Whalen recovered his own fumble on a punt return). After Devon Kennard's facemask penalty advanced the ball 15 yards, Luck threw to the left for Fleener, who was covered by linebacker Jacquian Williams. The tight end caught the ball for a 21-yard gain, though there seemed to be some uncertainty whether he maintained possession. The Colts hurried up to the line and the Giants seemed not to be ready when Luck threw a pass to the right that Fleener caught at the 18 and took to the end zone untouched – as Coughlin retrieved his red challenge flag from his sock. But he threw it too late and the score stood.
"Just a lot of chaos, chaos going on," Williams said. "There are definitely things that we've got to fix and bring more order to our defense."
"They go fast," Coughlin said. "Whenever they make a big play, they go fast. We talked about it all week, our defense prepared for it all week long. All of a sudden, we weren't getting lined up as fast as we should. I wasn't sure exactly whether the ball was fumbled or not. I would have done anything to slow them down right there. Obviously, that didn't work. They were able to take advantage of us in that one circumstance. It's something they have done in the past after big plays. We have worked on it, we just didn't line up as well, as fast as we should have lined up."
Asked if he was trying to challenge Fleener's first catch, Coughlin said, "I was trying to do anything I could to stop that, stop the clock, stop the game, whatever, whether it was or not. Seriously, did I think that they didn't catch the ball or whatever? I felt he caught the ball."
On the opening series of the third quarter, Luck threw to the end zone for Hilton, who was closely guarded by Rodgers-Cromartie. They jumped for the ball, and DRC seemed to be in position to intercept it. But when they hit the ground, Hilton had secured it for a 31-yard touchdown.
"I saw it, I knew I had to get a jump on him before he went up and got it," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I had it as I was coming down. He was jumping up and the ball hit his helmet and adjusted it and he took it from me. He made a play."
Later in the quarter, the Colts faced a fourth-and-five on the Giants' 40. Luck threw to the left for Wayne, who got a step on Jayron Hosley, caught the ball at the 31 and never stopped until he reached the end zone.
"The Reggie Wayne touchdown was an outstanding throw," Coughlin said. "We were not in great position in coverage on that play, but nevertheless, it was an accurate throw."
Indianapolis all but put the game away less than 2½ minutes later. Manning was sacked by rookie linebacker Johnathan Newsome and fumbled. Unlike the Giants, the Colts capitalized on the miscue as Sergio Brown scooped up the ball and returned it 26 yards to the Giants' four. Two plays later, the Giants left Allen completely uncovered and the result was a two-yard touchdown and a 37-10 lead.
Now the Giants have a short week to prepare for a long journey and a difficult game against the defending champion Seahawks Sunday in Seattle.
"Whatever the reason is, we're not winning games," Rolle said. "That's the only thing that matters. Whether it's fight or not enough fight, whether it's lack of execution - whatever it may be, we have to figure it out. We have to get it right, otherwise, we'll just keep digging ourselves a hole. This is a game where the strongest team will survive. The team that fights for 60 minutes strong, no matter how the game is going, is gonna be the team to win the game. We've got to do a much better job out there."