"They made the plays and we didn't," safety Reshad Jones said.
That was especially true on third down, which is where the Colts (5-3) won the game and ended the three-game winning streak Miami (4-4) was riding.
Indianapolis was 13-for-19 (68 percent) on third-down conversions against a Miami defense that entered the game No. 1 in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert just 26.4 percent.
But it gets worse.
The Colts converted six third downs of 10 or more yards, including a third-and-20 (20-yard gain), a third-and-16 (20-yard gain), a third-and-14 (25-yard gain) and a third-and-12 (22-yard gain). Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck was 13-for-17 passing for 204 yards and a touchdown on third downs. He converted 11 first downs through the air and averaged 15.7 yards per third-down completion.
"It was atypical of the way we played on third down," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said.
The rookie quarterbacks, Luck and Miami's Ryan Tannehill, put on an entertaining show, combining for 723 passing yards with Luck establishing a NFL rookie record by passing for 433 yards.
But clearly Indianapolis won because it made plays on third down, previously a time when the Dolphins' defense swallowed up their opponents. And it won because Luck, the No. 1 pick of the draft, is a different animal. He lived up to his reputation as a smart quarterback who makes intelligent reads and precision passes. Indianapolis ended with 516 yards of offense.
"He's a helluva player," said Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll.
Tannehill (22-for-38 passing for 290 yards, one touchdown) played well, too, despite being slowed all week by a bruised left knee and left thigh. Tannehill, who hooked up frequently with wide receiver Brian Hartline (eight receptions, 107 yards), even had a chance to win the game on Miami's final drive, but he couldn't find his rhythm.
"We had some chances there at the end," Tannehill said. "I missed a ball in the corner…I missed Daniel Thomas on a check down. We have got to be able to make those plays at the end."
Speaking of missed opportunities, Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith, who had a rough day all around, allowing two touchdowns, dropped a potential interception with 2:52 left in the game. That possibly could have changed the game's outcome because the Dolphins would have taken possession at the Colts' 30-yard line.
"I missed an interception, Sean missed a pick," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We had our opportunities. We just didn't execute, we didn't finish."
That was the story of the game.
The Dolphins played relatively well early. Miami, which rushed for 84 yards, its sixth game rushing for less than 100 yards, took a 17-13 halftime.
But Miami couldn't keep up the scoring in the second half, managing just a field goal.
The Dolphins' defense, the strength of the team, allowed nine plays of 20 or more yards. Tannehill rarely got comfortable in the pocket because the Colts' pass rush put pressure on him. Left tackle Jake Long struggled all day, getting called for a false start and holding, the latter was declined. And the Dolphins hardly put any pressure on Luck.
"Even with all that," defensive end Cameron Wake said, "coming down to the end of the game we had opportunities."
Unfortunately, the Dolphins couldn't take advantage of those opportunities, and they couldn't make plays. At least they're not short on optimism.
"We're 4-4, we're .500," Dansby said. "We've still got a lot of games left. We've still got a chance to mark our mark and position ourselves for February."