INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -When Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri couldn't tackle Darren Sproles on Sunday night's opening kickoff, Sproles scored.
When punter Hunter Smith couldn't shove Sproles out of bounds on Indianapolis' first punt, Sproles scored another touchdown.
Then again, kickers and punters aren't supposed to make those plays.
For coach Tony Dungy and his not-so-special coverage teams, the long runbacks and scores have been more than an aberration. They've become a trend.
``It's different problems and we've got to work to get it corrected,'' he said Monday. ``We can't afford to give away two touchdowns and not even give your defense a chance to play. Obviously, it's not the same guy or we'd make that switch.''
Those are strong words from a coach who tries to avoid midseason lineup changes.
But the exasperating predicament may not leave Dungy much choice. Over the past month, the Colts have allowed:
-Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew to run the opening second-half kickoff 65 yards to set up the Jaguars' only score in a lopsided Indy win.
-New England's Wes Welker to return a fourth-quarter punt 23 yards, setting up the Patriots' winning score.
-Sproles to run virtually untouched for an 89-yard kickoff return and a 45-yard punt return for two scores in the first quarter Sunday.
While Dungy isn't one to fret over stats, the fact that Indy ranks 24th in the league on kickoff returns and last on punt returns (21.1 yards) and has given up three returns for touchdowns is enough to warrant concern.
There's plenty of blame to go around.
Punt returner Craphonso Thorpe let two kicks bounce in front of him during the fourth quarter Sunday, and both proved costly. Indy lost about 14 yards of field position on the first one, and the second rolled around long enough to run 7 seconds off the clock in the final minute.
``Three balls hit the ground and one of those bounced to the 1,'' Dungy said. ``The last punt of the game, you'd like to see a fair catch on that one and not let it hit the ground.''
Even the most reliable players are having problems. Adam Vinatieri, long considered the best clutch kicker in the league, missed a rushed 42-yard field goal just before halftime Sunday. Then he pushed the potential winning 29-yarder wide right with 1:31 left in the game.
A week earlier, Vinatieri missed the first kick of his career in the RCA Dome, a 50-yarder on the Colts' opening series.
But it's the chip shot at San Diego that gave Vinatieri the most consternation.
``I let my team down tonight,'' Vinatieri said afterward. ``I just didn't hit it very good. I wish I could give you a better answer, but I just missed it and that one is on me.''
What's wrong with the Colts' special teams?
Injuries, for one thing.
With seven starters out last week and four more knocked out during the San Diego game, the Colts have been patching together a special teams unit with inexperienced players or fatigued players being asked to do more than usual.
``Special teams is tougher because you're dealing with a lot of guys who really have not done it before,'' Dungy said. ``Not everybody ran down and covered kicks, even in college, and so you're learning as you go a little bit and then there's a trickle down effect.''
That does not explain everything, though.
A year ago, the Colts were ranked 31st on punt returns and 30th on kickoff returns even before Devin Hester's memorable touchdown return in the Super Bowl.
Over the past 29 games, including the playoffs, Indianapolis has allowed seven returns for touchdowns. It seems an oddity for a team that devotes nearly one-fourth of all training camp practices to special teams work only.
But the numbers don't lie, and over the past two years, little has gone right.
So Dungy will spend more practice time this week trying to make the corrections before his team faces Kansas City's Eddie Drummond.
``They're not mistakes of effort, but just fundamental football and doing the right thing,'' Dungy said. ``We have to get that corrected.''

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