INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s never about what you’ve done. It’s about what you do next.
It’s about taking that next step, moving forward. Status quo isn’t an acceptable option.
That in mind, the next meaningful step for the Indianapolis Colts comes Sept. 8. A franchise intent on building on last season’s return to relevance opens the 2019 season against the Los Angeles Chargers in antiquated, cozy (27,000 capacity) and soon-to-be-replaced StubHub Center.
In fact, the first two steps must be taken away from home. Week 2 involves a trip to Nashville for an AFC South meeting with the Tennessee Titans.
Consider the road-road openers a rarity. It marks the first time since 2004, the fourth time in the Indy era and just the sixth time in franchise history the Colts have opened a season with consecutive road games.
The nomadic openers are the first of 16 games that will determine whether the Colts indeed are back and headed in the right direction after ending a three-year postseason drought, or still have some serious work to do.
The schedule, released Wednesday evening, features the Sept. 22 home opener against the Atlanta Falcons, three prime-time games – all on the road – and armed encounters with many of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks.
The Colts opened their offseason work Monday with everything aimed at the building on last season’s reemergence.
“(Last season) was such an exciting year and we’re looking forward to this year taking it several steps beyond that,’’ owner Jim Irsay said, “but it only starts with that opening game.’’
General manager Chris Ballard agreed. The Colts’ 10-6 record, return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and first-round win at Houston have greatly enhanced their profile and increased expectations.
“Are the expectations different externally? Yes,’’ he said. “Are they any different internally? No. We’ve got a good mindset. I’ve always had that. Frank (Reich) has it. Our staff has it and they do a good job of relaying it to our players.
“You can have great expectations, but if you don’t go to work and earn it . . . that’s one thing about this league: every year’s different. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to reset.
“What you did last year doesn’t matter. It’s over. You’ve got to start over from ground zero and then you’ve got to work to get better.’’
A few schedule-related tidbits:
Prime-time players?: Increased expectations heading into ’19 are tied to a return to the playoffs and Andrew Luck’s successful return last season. The byproduct is more prime-time exposure. The Colts were given three prime-time slots after having two in 2018 – a Thursday night loss at New England, and a Sunday night win at Tennessee in week 17 that was flexed to prime time and clinched a wild-card playoff spot.
The must-see TV attractions: Oct. 6 at Kansas City (NBC), Nov. 21 at Houston (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon) and Dec. 16 at New Orleans (ESPN).
Now it’s up to the Colts to prove they once again can be prime-time players. Since Luck’s arrival in 2012, they’re just 9-14 at night during the regular season. Their win at Tennessee in week 17 snapped a four-game losing streak, and they’ve lost 11 of their last 14 regular-season prime-time games.
If you need perspective, consider the incredible success posted by the Peyton Manning-led Colts. From 2000-10, they were 34-12. During one stretch, they won 13 straight.
Armed assault: Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus figures to have more than a few restless nights. Game-planning for many of the NFL’s upper-echelon quarterbacks can have that effect.
The 2019 dance card includes encounters with five of the six top-ranked QBs from a year ago (based on passer rating): 1. Drew Brees (115.7), Saints; 2. Patrick Mahomes (113.8), Chiefs; 4. Matt Ryan (108.1), Falcons; 5. Philip Rivers (105.5), Chargers; 6. Deshaun Watson (103.1), Texans. Mahomes led the league with 50 TDs and was named MVP. Brees broke his own league record for completion percentage (74.4), and passed for 3,992 yards with 32 TDs and just five interceptions.
There’s also the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who led the league with 5,129 yards. Here’s where we remind you Big Ben has won five straight against the Colts and been downright dominant in the process: a 125.8 passer rating, 1,707 yards, 16 touchdowns, two interceptions.
Indy had to deal with an occasional Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Dak Prescott last season, but they also faced the likes of Derek Anderson, Blake Bortles, Blaine Gabbert and Cody Kessler.
Hello again: The Colts return to New Orleans for the first time since 2011, and who can forget that one? It was week 7 of the Manning-less season and the 55-point shellacking (62-7) remains the most lopsided in the Indy era and the second-worst in franchise history (anyone remember that 57-0 stumble against Chicago in 1962?).
And it’s hard not to notice the Oct. 6 return to Kansas City. Last season crash and burned Jan. 12 at Arrowhead Stadium with a 31-13 second-round playoff loss to the Chiefs.
Numbers game: In the For What It’s Worth department, the Colts’ strength of schedule (based on 2018 record) for the upcoming season is tied for the seventh-toughest: .518, 132-123-1. Six teams posted winning records and four reached the postseason.
August 8 – @Buffalo Bills – 7 p.m. (FOX59)
August 17 – vs. Cleveland Browns – 4 p.m. (FOX59)
August 24 – vs. Chicago Bears – 7 p.m. (FOX59)
August 29 – @ Cincinnati Bengals – 7 p.m. (FOX59)
September 8 – @ Los Angeles Chargers – 4:05 p.m. (CBS4)
September 15 – @ Tennessee Titans – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
September 22 – vs. Atlanta Falcons – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
September 29 – vs. Oakland Raiders – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
October 6 – @ Kansas City Chiefs – 8:20 p.m.
October 20 – vs. Houston Texans – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
October 27 – vs. Denver Broncos – 4:25 p.m. (CBS4)
November 3 – @ Pittsburgh Steelers – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
November 10 – vs. Miami Dolphins – 4:05 p.m. (CBS4)
November 17 – vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
November 21 (THU) – @ Houston Texans – 8:20 p.m. (FOX59)
December 1 – vs. Tennessee Titans – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
December 8 – @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
December 16 (MON) – @ New Orleans Saints – 8:15 p.m.
December 22 – vs. Carolina Panthers – 1 p.m. (FOX59)
December 29 – @ Jacksonville Jaguars – 1 p.m. (CBS4)
Listen to tomorrow’s episode of the Colts Bluezone Podcast for more analysis of Indianapolis’ 2019 schedule, as well as draft preview, news and notes.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.