Philip Rivers rarely is at a loss for words.
With his Southern drawl and home-spun colloquialisms, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback normally is more than willing to hold court before the media and go into great detail in postgame press conferences.
Sunday, that wasn’t necessary.
Rivers was at the center of two big mistakes that cost the Colts nine points during a frustrating 32-23 loss against the Cleveland Browns.
And there wasn’t much more to say.
“Give a good team – especially that offense – give them nine points, and then our D really bowed up in the second half and played well enough to win,” Rivers said. “Offensively … we didn’t do enough to win. Obviously, I’ve told you guys, we’ve gotta score one more point than the other team, and we didn’t get that done.”
As always, there was plenty of blame to go around.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes dropped an interception that would have kept a Cleveland field goal off the scoreboard just before halftime. Running back Nyheim Hines fair caught a punt at his own 4-yard line that helped lead to a safety. And the defense allowed Browns running back D’Earnest Johnson to break free for 28 yards on a third-and-9 near midfield with Indianapolis desperately trying to get the ball back before the two-minute warning.
But the dagger was applied much earlier.
After a first half in which Cleveland (4-1) showed it could make big plays in the passing game to match the league’s top-ranked rushing offense, the Colts (3-2) still were within striking distance with a 10-point deficit to start the third quarter.
Then Rivers locked onto veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on third-and-4 from his own 47-yard line, and Cleveland safety Ronnie Harrison stepped in front of the pass and returned it for the only touchdown of the second half.
The pass was thrown late to the flat, and Rivers had no interest in replaying it after the game.
“It just wasn’t a good play,” the 38-year-old quarterback said. “That’s about the only explanation you’re gonna get.”
That turnover dug a deep hole for Indianapolis, but the team’s continued struggles to finish drives in the red zone ensured it could not climb back out.
Rookie Isaiah Rodgers returned the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 27-17, and the Colts got the ball back four plays later when linebacker Bobby Okereke intercepted Baker Mayfield’s pass at the 48-yard line.
Okereke was playing with a club on his left hand after undergoing thumb surgery last Monday. He never doubted he’d play against the Browns, and his pick jumpstarted a defensive turnaround after a first-half in which Mayfield threw touchdown passes of 2 yards to Kareem Hunt and 15 yards to Rashard Higgins.
“We knew we wanted to stop the run,” Okereke said. “We did a decent job of that in the first half, but they were getting us on some boots, some deep shots. So we just adjusted to that, tried to get back to playing (like) us. And we thought we started well, just weren’t able to finish it out.”
The Colts’ ensuing drive lost momentum after tight end Jack Doyle was called for holding on first down at the 23. The flag wiped out a 6-yard run by rookie Jonathan Taylor – who was starting to heat up and finished with 57 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries – and Indianapolis ultimately settled for a 37-yard field goal by rookie Rodrigo Blankenship, his second of three in the game.
The defense answered by forcing its first punt, but Hines fair caught it at the 4.
On first down, Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett pushed left tackle Le’Raven Clark – subbing for the injured Anthony Castonzo – back into Rivers, and the quarterback lobbed a pass out of bounds ahead of the imminent sack. After a brief huddle, officials flagged the play for intentional grounding – resulting in a safety and a 29-20 lead for the Browns.
Cleveland showed an unexpected look on the play, and Colts head coach Frank Reich took the blame.
“Eight of 10 times, I’m probably not making that call,” he said. “But I felt like if we got it right, it would be a big chunk and get us out of that hole. So that was on me.”
After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Colts had one more chance to get back in the game – taking over at their own 13-yard line with 13:30 to play.
But Rivers again got pressure from the left side on third-and-6 and was intercepted by Cleveland safety Sheldrick Redwine – who had just entered the game for an injured Harrison.
Linebacker Anthony Walker’s interception gave Indianapolis the ball back at its own 30 with 7:05 to play, but another stalled drive ended with Blankenship’s 25-yard field goal with 2:50 remaining.
“Again, felt like we beat ourselves a little bit,” Walker said. “Obviously, they made some plays, but we felt like we beat ourselves a couple times, and we can’t do that against great opponents.”
The Colts had one more chance to get the ball back on third-and-9 from Cleveland’s 43-yard line, but a defense that held the league’s No. 1 rushing attack to 3.8 yards per carry gave up Johnson’s 28-yard run to essentially end it.
Cody Parkey banked a 46-yard field goal off the left upright with 25 seconds to play to provide the final margin.
Indianapolis saw its three-game winning streak snapped and will host Cincinnati (1-3-1) next week.
“I still got a lot of confidence in this team,” Reich said. “This is one game. Difficult. When you work as hard as we do and you’re as close as we are and you believe that you’re going places like we do, you come on the road and you lose this game, it hurts. So we’ll just put it back together and get things going again next week.”