By MICHAEL MAROT
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck prefers simple solutions.
So when he was asked this week about the Colts' growing propensity for slow starts, he came up with one word: Execution.
What has been a season-long concern has suddenly emerged as a glaring problem that needs to be fixed — and fast.
"It looks lethargic," coach Chuck Pagano said.
"We talk all the time, you don't win games in the National Football League, you lose them. We're doing everything possible to put ourselves in these holes. We found out (Sunday) that we put ourselves in one that we couldn't find the magic to get out of."
Few teams have been as successful in the second half as the Colts (6-3), and few quarterbacks have been as good at rallying a team as Luck whose 10 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter are the most of any player in his first two seasons since the 1970 merger.
But Indy doesn't want to keep putting Luck in such tenuous situations.
The obvious solution is better starts.
Indy's numbers are stunning. Over the past two weeks, the Colts have punted 10 times, had six three-and-outs, a blocked field goal, a fumble returned for a touchdown, a punt returned for a touchdown and given up TD passes of 62, 41 and 57 yards in the first half.
Not surprisingly, they've been outscored 49-3 during that stretch — something that must change Thursday night at Tennessee (4-5).
It's no fluke.
Indy has faced first-quarter double-digit deficits against Miami, Seattle and Houston and it took the Rams 15½ minutes to do the same thing in Sunday's 38-8 blowout.
"Like I said, we're not the hunters no more. We're the hunted," cornerback Vontae Davis said. "So teams are coming out throwing punches at us."
Injuries have hurt, too.
Running back Vick Ballard (knee) and tight end Dwayne Allen (hip), both starters, went down with season-ending injuries after Week 1. Left guard Donald Thomas (quad) was lost for the season in Week 2, and Ballard's replacement, Ahmad Bradshaw, started two games before a neck injury ended his season in Week 3.
Those four injuries were a major blow to Indy's transformation from a pass-first team to a power-running team.
However, the biggest hit came Oct. 20 when Wayne tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Without Wayne, Luck is completing just 54 percent of his passes and while he has thrown for 624 yards, four TDs and three interceptions — numbers more befitting his rookie season than reflecting the progression he's made in Year 2.
The running game, meanwhile, has become stagnant. Indy has run just 28 times for 87 yards the past two weeks as it tried to play catch-up.
Even Luck acknowledges it's been different as his young receivers try to replace Wayne's Pro Bowl productivity.
"There is a bit of an adjustment, but there's no excuse for not doing things or not getting better and continuing to improve," Luck said. "Reggie was such a huge part of the offense, still is a huge part of the offense. His leadership, that role he brings. Hopefully, we don't miss a beat, but there is a bit of an adjustment."
While Luck and the offense have received most of the blame lately, they're certainly not alone.
Of the 193 points allowed by Indy's defense this season, 126 came in the first two quarters.
But this isn't about assessing blame, it's about finding ways to improve.
"We dug ourselves in a hole and the quicksand was too fast. We couldn't pull ourselves out," defensive end Cory Redding said of Sunday's game. "Whatever it is, we've still got seven games left. We've got to continue to keep working, keep striving to fix whatever it may be."
Luck agrees, and he has a pretty good idea of what it will take.
"I think there is a lack of execution," he said. "Offensively, when you're putting drives together to start off, if you can get a good 10, 12-play drive and get points, I guess that constitutes a fast start.
"We're working at it. That's why we go out to practice, to get better at what we need to get better at. Guys are excited to get out there and right our wrongs."
Note: Pagano said he expects right guard Mike McGlynn to play with a cast Thursday night. McGlynn fractured the thumb on his right hand in Sunday's loss.