INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Baker stood in front of his locker stall Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, just as Darrell Baker Jr. had seven days earlier.
They were cornerbacks being asked a basic question — what happened?
Neither had an acceptable answer. And we would argue neither should have been in such an uncomfortable situation.
Not Baker after several late pivotal plays went against him in the 39-38 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
And not Brown after quarterback Derek Carr spent Sunday afternoon targeting and exploiting him in the New Orleans Saints’ 38-27 win over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday.
Each was the proverbial “next man up” as injuries have decimated a cornerbacks room that entered the season teeming with youth and inexperience. Dallis Flowers suffered a season-ending Achilles injury after starting the first four games of the year. Rookie JuJu Brents missed the Saints game after sustaining a quadricep injury against the Browns.
The Colts have needed more at the position to go along with Kenny Moore II and rookie Jaylon Jones — they’ve needed better — and that’s on them.
General manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff decided to rely on youth going into the season, realizing there would be growing pains.
“We ended up drafting three guys,’’ Ballard said at the start of training camp. “We got some guys internally we like.
“We think we’ve got a good core group of talented corners that just have to play and get better.’’
Sunday, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley considered his options and turned to Brown rather than sticking with Baker as his third corner.
“We felt good about Tony going into the game,’’ head coach Shane Steichen said. “So, that was the decision that was made.’’
Did the coaching staff consider replacing Brown when he encountered early struggles?
“We felt good with Tony,’’ Steichen said.
Even before Sunday, it was a strange decision. Brown has been a solid special teams contributor during his six-year career, but the start against New Orleans was his second since 2018.
His 2023 campaign had consisted of 147 special teams snaps and one on defense in the opener against Jacksonville. Oddly, Brown’s one snap against the Jaguars resulted in his only career interception.
As expected, the spotlight was on Brown from the outset.
Carr noticed him, and attacked.
There was his 17-yard completion to wideout Michael Thomas on the Saints’ second offensive play.
And a 58-yard touchdown on a deep post to Rashid Shaheed in the second quarter.
And the absolute killer: a 51-yard hookup with Shaheed on third-and-13 with the Saints looking to add to their precarious 35-27 lead with 2:52 remaining. It was Brown vs. Shaheed down the left side. A stop by the defense would have given Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew II and his offense one last shot at mounting a comeback.
Instead, the Saints sealed the game with kicker Blake Grupe’s 27-yard field goal with 24 seconds left.
According to ESPN’s NextGen Stats, Brown was in coverage for 27 snaps and the nearest defender on seven of Carr’s 27 attempts. Carr went 7-for-7 for 187 yards with a TD to Shaheed and a 158.3 passer rating, the highest possible, with Brown in coverage.
Did Brown feel as if Carr was targeting him?
“No, I didn’t feel like that,’’ he said.
Brown described the third-and-13 completion to Shaheed as “a good play by them. Hats off to them. I’ve got to be better.’’
Brown didn’t flinch when addressing the media after Carr passed for 310 yards and two TDs, and Shaheed finished with 153 yards on just three catches.
“The type of player I am, I always look internal first for what I could have done better,’’ he said. “Regardless of anything — win, lose or draw — I always look at what I could have done better.
“After looking at the film and just how I feel right now, there were definitely plays I could have done better, and I’ve got to get better for next game.’’
The defensive lapses made snapping the two-game losing streak impossible.
The Colts allowed or matched season-highs in total yards (511), yards per play (7.7), passing yards (354), yards per pass play (11.7) and first downs (24). New Orleans converted 6-of-12 third down situations.
They were unable to deal with Taysom Hill, the Saints’ Swiss Army Knife, who was their leading rusher with 63 yards and two TDs on nine attempts. Running back Alvin Kamara also hit the Colts with a rushing TD (16 yards) and a receiving TD (18 yards).
The Colts are the only team in the league to score at least 20 points in every game, but also one of two — the Washington Commanders are the other — to allow at least 30 points in three consecutive games.
It’s the first time since 2018 and just the second time in 22 seasons they’ve been gouged for 30-plus points in three straight games.
The Colts dropped their third straight, fell to 3-5 and have lost four of their five games at Lucas Oil Stadium.
An undeniable culprit — the lack of reliable depth at corner.
Might the Colts turn to another option next week at Carolina?
“Yeah, we’ll evaluate everything,’’ Steichen said.
Brown’s struggles were the top issue Sunday.
No. 2? The odd use of Jonathan Taylor.
At the end of a 7-7 first quarter, he had rushed seven times for 82 yards.
“When you get a start like that, you always think, ‘Aw, this may go today,’’ Taylor said. “But you always realize in the back of your mind, ‘They’ll make adjustments. We need to make adjustments.’
“You definitely do get excited when you get going early and you just start thinking about, ‘How can I sustain this? How can we sustain this throughout the entire game?’’’
The obvious answer: They couldn’t. Taylor wasn’t given the opportunity.
Taylor’s electric start was followed by Pffft! He finished with 95 yards on 12 carries. We’ll save you the math. Over the final three quarters, Taylor had 13 yards on five attempts. That included 1 yard on one attempt after halftime.
Despite his presence and value to the offense — let’s not forget the $42 million extension the team gave him in earlier this month — Taylor went nearly 10 minutes between handoffs in the first half.
Steichen pointed to Zack Moss’ presence (11 carries, 66 yards) and the Colts trailing 35-20 early in the fourth quarter, which required more from Minshew and the pass game. Indy ran only six times in the second half.
But the Colts trailed just 28-20 at the end of the third quarter. An ineffective offense in the third period resulted in just 12 plays: six Minshew passes and six runs, five by Moss that included a 41-yard burst.
“That’s what led to it,’’ Steichen said of Taylor’s ultra-quiet second half.
Taylor didn’t appear upset by the lack of touches after his fast start.
“I wasn’t shocked, but there also wasn’t a discussion,’’ he said. “I mean, we put points on the board. Whatever Shane calls, I’m with it. You guys see we were able to score points.’’
Just not enough.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter/X at @mchappell51.