AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck delivered his statement with a disgusted glare.
Chuck Pagano resorted to a terse tone and sharp words.
Either way, both made their point clearly: It is past time for the Colts to correct the mistakes that are threatening to turn their season into an early bust.
“You can’t turn the ball over. You’ve got to protect. You’ve got to give him time, you’ve got to give him a clean pocket so he can step up and not get hit when he’s releasing the ball and we’ve got to get it fixed,” Pagano said after Monday’s 20-7 loss to the Jets. “You can’t drive the length of the field, a 10-minute drive, and get to the 1-yard line and put the ball on the ground. You can’t do it. You’re not going to beat Zionsville (High School) doing that.”
Pagano’s not-so-subtle references were to Luck, Indy’s poor pass protection and Frank Gore, who gave away a scoring chance by fumbling into the Jets’ end zone.
Less than 24 hours later, Pagano tried to dispel the notion his postgame comments were directed primarily at his franchise quarterback.
“I was saying ‘Hey guys, we’ve got one helluva quarterback and we’ve got a great player and a great leader there,’” Pagano said Tuesday. “It was ‘Hey, we’re lucky we’ve got Andrew.’”
Most of Indy’s troubles, so far, have been self-inflicted and the result of a bad Luck.
He has already thrown five interceptions and his six giveaways this season have run his league-leading total to 28 turnovers over the past 18 games. That’s not a new phenomenon. Luck came into this season with the league’s fourth-highest turnover total since 2012 — perhaps because he was hit more than any other NFL quarterback in the league, too, according to STATS.
Indy (0-2) also drew 11 penalties Monday, many of which brought back big plays and stalled drives. Dropped passes, tipped balls, the lack of a consistent ground game and playing two of the NFL’s better defenses have hurt, too.
It’s a confounding twist for a team that expected to be one of the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses. The Colts now have more turnovers (eight) than touchdowns (three) and head into Week 3 trailing Tennessee (1-1) and Jacksonville (1-1) in the AFC South. The Colts play at Tennessee on Sunday.
“It’s tough when we put ourselves in third-and-longs. That’s when it’s tough,” Luck said. “If we can stay ahead of the chains on first and second down and get third-and-manageables, then we’ve got a chance. Third-and-long makes it hard.”
Indianapolis has faced longer odds during Pagano’s tenure.
In 2012, the Colts reached the playoffs after being dubbed the worst team in football and despite losing Pagano for 12 weeks as he battled leukemia.
Last season, Indy won the division title and reached the AFC championship game after starting 0-2.
But this slump has a different feel.
With the offense out of sync, Luck off the mark, the defense lacking playmakers and even the usually reliable Adam Vinatieri 0 for 2 on field-goal attempts, fans booed heartily as things went awry against New York. Behind the scenes, Pagano is in the final year of his contract and there’s a rumored rift between Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson — something both men and team owner Jim Irsay deny.
If this early stretch is reminiscent of anything, it might be 2001 when Edgerrin James got hurt, Indy missed the playoffs, coach Jim Mora and general manager Bill Polian couldn’t see eye-to-eye and Mora screeched the infamous “Playoffs? Playoffs?” after critiquing a four-interception game from Peyton Manning.
Strangely, that also was Manning’s fourth season in the league.
But Pagano believes his team can and will get back to playing up to the expectations.
“We’ve got a really good football team, and it gets frustrating when you just shoot yourself in the foot,” Pagano said. “I know we’re better than we played and we’ve seen glimpses of that. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for us. Do we want to be 0-2? No. Do we want to have the turnovers and the penalties and the negatives? No. And that’s why we’ll get back to work.”
Notes: Pagano said tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle) would be day to day and cornerback Vontae Davis (concussion) could return to the field in a few days. … Pagano is optimistic cornerback Darius Butler (hip) and linebackers Jonathan Newsome (hamstring) and D’Qwell Jackson (stinger) will play this week. Cornerback Greg Toler (neck), Pagano said, could be a limited participant at practice this week is but remains day to day.