After dramatic closing win over Jaguars, Colts facing major uncertainty
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – In the moment, Andrew Luck might have been in the backyard, celebrating a touchdown pass that won an imaginary Super Bowl.
After Jack Doyle hugged his 1-yard dart with 9 seconds remaining Sunday to deliver the Indianapolis Colts a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Luck sprinted the length of the sideline, high-fiving everybody, anybody.
“There’s a fair amount of frustration there obviously from the season with how I played,’’ he said. “It felt good to get that touchdown at that moment.
“There were times earlier this year that we didn’t finish games when we had the chance in the two-minute or four-minute drill. So to get that one was very joyous, and maybe (I) released a little frustration.’’
But did it matter?
Did Luck’s 18th game-winning drive do anything but add window dressing on an unsightly season? Does a second consecutive 8-8 finish convince Jim Irsay his franchise is headed in the right direction? Aside from avoiding what would have been just the second losing record in the last 15 seasons, did Sunday convince the owner to stand pat with his head coach and/or general manager?
Or had the previous 15 games – equal parts dismal and encouraging – already made up his mind?
Irsay shared the post-game euphoria with the team in the locker room, but didn’t stop to share his thoughts with the media. He and his entourage climbed in a golf cart and scooted out of the stadium without comment.
Chuck Pagano also was in no mood to discuss the immediate future. He and general manager Ryan Grigson are under contract for the next three seasons, but their boss can’t be pleased with missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
Asked about his job security, Pagano showed his holiday spirit instead.
“Happy New Year. Happy New Year,’’ he said. “It was a great win. Really proud of this team and can’t wait to see my wife and kids.
“I have my daughters here, my three granddaughters here. Baby Zoey, she is 3 or 4 years old. She doesn’t give a damn about football right now.’’
But so many others give a damn. And should.
We can argue whether the Colts still have the championship culture created by Bill Polian, who was added to the Ring of Honor at halftime, and personified by Robert Mathis, who punctuated his retirement after 14 decorated seasons with a 47th sack/forced fumble.
But no one can argue the Colts underachieved their way to an early offseason. They missed the 2015 postseason primarily because Luck missed nine starts.
They failed again because they were too inconsistent, and not good enough.
That’s a recipe for uncertainty.
Listen to Frank Gore, who expressly signed a free-agent contract with the Colts prior to 2015 because he believed they gave him his best shot at winning a championship. The fact his team finished on a high note and he became the first Colt since Joseph Addai in 2007 to crack the 1,000-yard barrier was little consolation.
“You have to win in this league,’’ Gore said. “I feel like we’ve got a team that should have been in the tournament, but it didn’t happen. Things didn’t go our way this year. One week we look great. The next week we look (bad). In this league, you can’t do that, especially . . . when you’ve been dominating this division for a long time.’’
Gore has deep ties to Pagano, offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski and position coach Jim Hostler. Each’s job could be in jeopardy if Irsay determines massive change is required.
“They’re like family to me,’’ Gore said. “I want good for them.
“You know how this business is. We all do. We didn’t get it done this year. We know how it is.’’
Safety Mike Adams is one of a dozen players in the final year of his contract. Uncertainly hovers at every level of the organization, from front office to the locker room.
“It wasn’t just about coach Pagano,’’ Adams said. “It was about us. It was about everybody. I was playing for my job, too.’’
No one should question his allegiance to Pagano.
“Absolutely I believe in Chuck,’’ Adams said. “I believe in the organization. I believe in all of it. That’s why I’m here.’’
But again, the closing win did little to soothe the overall pain of falling short. Again. There were so many missed opportunities: the opener against Detroit, the error-prone loss to Jacksonville in London, either loss to Houston.
“We’ve still got that frustration because we should be in the tournament,’’ Adam said. “We still would like to have a couple of games back that didn’t work out.
“But the reality of it is we’re going home. We’re going to be watching (the playoffs) on TV and seeing what everybody else has got. That’s unfortunate for us.’’
The subsequent uncertainty, he added, “is something I can’t control. We can’t control whatever happens. We’ve got to roll with it.’’
Tight end Dwayne Allen lobbied hard for status quo.
“I believe we still have some growing to do, some personnel changes to make,’’ he said, “but we’re definitely headed in the right direction. We had a lot of very close games this year. Those close games didn’t come down to coaching. They came down to execution.’’
The 30-27 loss to Jacksonville in London was eerily similar to Sunday’s script. On Oct. 2, the Colts were driving for at worst a game-tying field goal with less than 2 minutes to play. They failed when Luck’s fourth-and-1 pass went off Allen’s hands.
Sunday, they completed the comeback as Luck drove them 75 yards in eight plays and 1 minute, 24 seconds. With no timeouts.
“Did not have a fourth-down drop,’’ Allen said. “That’s not coaching. That’s execution.
“I do believe we’re headed in the right direction. We’re getting better.’’
And he steadfastly believes Pagano and Grigson should return.
“Yes. I’ll go on record,’’ Allen said. “I do believe that. I believe with the continuity between the coach and the GM, they’re going to put the right guys in the right position to keep the Colts moving in the right direction.
“I do believe they’re the guys that can get it done. They’re the guys everyone was praising when we were winning and progressing every year in the playoffs. Just because we have one or two years that we’re not going to the playoffs . . . the media and people around here are spoiled.
“It takes time to build a championship team. You’re going to have years like this. You stay committed. You continue to grind. You trust and stay loyal to those around you. Eventually you’re going to be successful.’’
Irsay must determine whether that success will include Chuck Pagano, Ryan Grigson and more than a handful of players.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.