ARLINGTON, Texas — The Indianapolis Colts’ season carved out a new low on Sunday night football.
Indianapolis coughed up any chance at a close game in an abysmal fourth quarter, losing 54-19 to the Dallas Cowboys in a game marred by four consecutive turnovers, an ugly performance defensively and not much fight or composure down the stretch.
The Colts (4-8-1) head into the bye week at their lowest part of their season.
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Matt Ryan imploded
For three weeks, interim coach Jeff Saturday’s decision to go back to Matt Ryan as the starter had been marked by efficient if not explosive football, with the 37-year-old limiting the mistakes he’d made early in the season that cost him the starting job and Frank Reich his job altogether.
Ryan had just one interception in the first three games since returning to the lineup.
But the Cowboys defense made Ryan pay on Sunday night.
Ryan tossed a pair of touchdown passes, finding a wide-open Ashton Dulin and throwing a 50-50 ball that rookie Alec Pierce brought down for a score.
He also sailed far too many throws, made late decisions and threw three interceptions. The first, a ball that sailed high to Pierce on a slant at the end of the first half and led to a tip-drill pick, turned the game. The second, a late ball behind Kylen Granson that DaRon Bland picked, essentially ended the Colts’ hopes, and then Bland took the ball away from Dulin for a third interception, Ryan’s 13th of the season.
The 37-year-old quarterback was brought to Indianapolis to take care of the ball and distribute, but he’s been flummoxed and frustrated by the pressure, and it’s led to back-breaking mistakes.
Indianapolis’ ball security collapses
Officially, the Colts fumbled only twice, a pair of back-breakers by Mo Alie-Cox and Ryan that put the game well out of reach.
But there were a handful more issues with ball security that were overturned on review, including a fumble by Alec Pierce and a few more missed opportunities.
Indianapolis has now lost 12 fumbles this season, including five by Ryan, and leads the NFL in giveaways by a wide margin.
Colts defense capitulates
The Indianapolis defense spent most of the season playing solid football that largely went unrewarded by a Colts offense that has been one of the NFL’s worst this season.
That hasn’t been the story the last couple of weeks.
Facing off against a diverse, wide-ranging Dallas offense that doesn’t give up sacks, Indianapolis made a few plays — a Stephon Gilmore pick, a Kwity Paye sack — but largely got steamrolled by a Cowboys team that made plays on the perimeter, stuck to the ground game and kicked into high gear when Indianapolis turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions in the second half.
The 54 points the defense surrendered was the third-most since the team moved to Indianapolis.
Former Colts first-round pick Malik Hooker exacts his revenge
The first pick of Chris Ballard’s tenure as general manager never lived up to the hype he carried coming out of Ohio State.
A torn ACL halfway through his rookie season, a string of injuries after that, including a torn Achilles in 2020, kept Malik Hooker from ever realizing that potential. But he’s found a second life in the NFL as a rotational safety for the Cowboys’ defense, playing in the back end of a deep group.
Hooker hasn’t been much better in Dallas than he was in Indianapolis. In the 25 games he’d played as a Cowboy, Hooker had produced just two turnovers, both interceptions.
But he had a heck of a revenge game against the Colts on Sunday night, playing a key role in turning the game into a blowout against his old team.
Hooker made the diving interception at the end of the first half, then picked up Alie-Cox’s fumble and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown — the first touchdown of Hooker’s NFL career — to put the game out of reach in the third quarter.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Dallas Cowboys rout Indianapolis Colts on 'Sunday Night Football'