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INDIANAPOLIS – It's safe to say the Indianapolis Colts' performance in their third preseason game did not have Super Bowl written all over it.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's touch was off, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees delivered a lesson in offensive cool and Colts defensive tackle Art Jones had the wind knocked out him as a symbolic statement on preseason progress.
The good news: No one remembers preseason.
But for today, here are my Top 5 takeaways from the Colts' 23-17 loss to the Saints on Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Reggie is still Reggie
Wayne didn't have any official catches since both of the passes he hauled in during his first appearance since last season were negated by penalties. But it's preseason, so who cares? He showed he could move, he took a hit – albeit a mild push out of bounds – and his second catch was a vintage snare of a high pass.
There's nothing to suggest Wayne isn't completely back to where he was before his knee injury. Can he sustain his health over 16 games? That's the question we'll have to wait to answer. He looks up to the task, and that's a huge positive for the Colts and especially Luck, who has an extra measure of security when Wayne is on the field.
“Everything felt normal and that's what I expected,” Wayne said, noting that Pagano told him he would play eight to 10 plays. “For the short time I was out there, I felt pretty normal.”
Brees offered a more mobile preview for Peyton
Once the regular season hits, the Colts' defense will face the best (or is it worst?) possible challenge right off the bat, traveling to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Brees gave them a taste of what dealing with an elite quarterback looks like. (Sorry Eli.)
Brees hadn't played yet in the preseason because of a strained oblique but he looked regular-season sharp out of the gate. He found the open receivers, checked to the right plays and completed 9-of-15 passes for 128 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brees found the mismatches (Marques Colston vs. Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, for example) and exploited them.
Brees still moves better than Peyton Manning, but they share the quality of avoiding pass rushes that are not exactly on point. The Colts miss Robert Mathis, and will be missing him to open the season.
Luck's toughness sometimes better than his touch
Except for a touchdown pass to a wide-open Coby Fleener, Luck couldn't seem to find his rhythm in the passing game. He had a couple of passes that fell short, including one for an interception. He reverted to his rookie-year tendency to try to extend a play with risky moves/throws.
"As the game went on, we did a good job getting in the rush lanes and making it difficult on the quarterback," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He had some third-down throws that were high and wide and we did a good job getting somebody in his face."
One lasting positive image, though, was Luck refusing to be tackled by Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had a sack for the taking. If Luck's touch becomes as reliable as his toughness, there will be no stopping him. Luck was 10-of-18 passing for 103 yards, one touchdown, one pick and a 67.6 passer rating. Those numbers won't do in the regular season. In his defense, Luck left the game before he could stage one of his fourth-quarter comebacks.
"We never got in a rhythm, missing throws that I would like to make and turning the ball over," Luck said. "It was encouraging to get a 2-minute drive (to end the half) down there. We've got to punch the ball in when we're down there."
Some small secondary sparks
Overall, it's tough to give the secondary a strong grade since Brees was so successful, but there were some good moments from cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry. Toler showed his ability to stay with receivers and play physical. Landry was solid and nearly had a pick. Unfortunately, Toler suffered an injury in the third quarter. Remaining healthy has been an issue for him.
Cornerback Vontae Davis didn't fare as well, most notably in a missed tackle that ended up helping to set up a Saints score. But Brees largely stayed away from throwing Davis' way, which is an indication that Davis is a defensive presence. Josh Gordy had a pick, but it was against the Saints' third string.
Colts running game still worrisome
Trent Richardson had a couple good runs and some stutter-stepping ones where he bounced outside for nothing. That's normal, unfortunately. It's still preseason and Richardson could bust loose in the regular season. That's what the Colts are hoping, or maybe praying. Richardson had six carries for 17 yards (2.8 per carry).
Ahmad Bradshaw played sparingly, but moved well, so that's a good sign. Boom Herron (eight carries, 68 yards) had some nice runs, but they came against the second- and third-string Saints defense.
It's not necessary to have a great running game to be a Super Bowl contender. But at least a semblance of a running game will be required. There's plenty of work ahead for the Colts.