INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner expect the Indianapolis Colts' defense to ace each week's test — regardless of the challenge.
It's why they consider Sunday's 24-10 loss to Baltimore a failure.
“We’re a good team, but we’ve got to be way better," said Leonard, the playmaking Pro Bowl linebacker. “I think they rushed for 112 yards overall. That can't happen."
Never mind the Colts (5-3) held the league's top rushing attack to its second-lowest total this season, its first sub-140 yard game in four weeks and well below its per-game average of 178.7 yards.
Never mind Indy kept Lamar Jackson pretty much in check. He was 19 of 23 with 170 yards while carrying 13 times for 58 yards.
Never mind Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh, who has presided over some of the league's top defenses during his 13-year tenure, praised Indy's young, vastly improved unit.
It wasn't good enough for Leonard or Buckner because they know what's still on the docket.
Sunday’s matchup with Baltimore (6-2) was the start of a brutal four-game stretch that includes two MVP quarterbacks — Jackson and Aaron Rodgers — and three contests against last season's conference runners-up. They'll face Tennessee twice and Green Bay in two weeks. The Ravens also were the AFC's top seed last year and all four could be contenders again this season.
To those who wondered whether the Colts defense could hold up against some of the league's top teams and best talents, the Ravens game certainly provided some promising signs. Indy allowed only 13 yards rushing in the first half and forced Baltimore out of its traditional run-first philosophy in the second half.
But Leonard and Buckner, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, know Indy can — and must — play even better during the second half of the season to make the playoffs.
“Guys played hard, we competed, but it’s the little mistakes that we need to clean up to come out with a win," Buckner said. “As a whole, we have to step up. Just do your job and make sure you're doing it at a high rate and eventually somebody will make a play and we just didn't come up with them (today)."
The truth is there was plenty of blame to go around for the loss.
Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor started fast before fumbling as he fought to pick up extra yards. Chuck Clark scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 65 yards for the Ravens first score, successfully hurdling quarterback Philip Rivers en route to the end zone, to make it 7-7.
And after Buckner pried the ball out of Gus Edwards' hands near the goal line to stop one Baltimore scoring chance, Philip Rivers responded on the very next play by underthrowing Marcus Johnson on a deep pass near midfield. Marcus Peters picked off the pass, which was initially ruled incomplete and later overturned when Harbaugh successfully challenged the call.
Ten plays later, Edwards scored the go-ahead touchdown.
“It was just underthrown, a poor throw," Rivers said. “The bottom line is I shouldn’t have thrown it short. You throw it short, you’re leaving it in other people’s hands and you never know what will happen.”
Coach Frank Reich also gambled and lost.
Down 21-10, he opted to play for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 16. When Rivers dropped back, the Ravens brought pressure up the middle and forced n errant throw with 5:29 to go, all but sealing the outcome.
“We needed two scores and if we had only needed one, I probably would have played it safe and run the ball," Reich said. “It was a play we felt really good about, we'd run a version of that play that has been highly successful in the past. But obviously, we didn't convert."
And after one sensational half of football, the Colts defense couldn't finish, either.
“I just felt like the first half we played OK," Leonard said. “The second half, we’ve got to find a way to make a play. We didn’t do that today."