INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As Chuck Pagano has insisted the last few weeks, “We signed up for 16.’’ So here’s the 16th and final installment. Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ season-ending meeting with the Houston Texans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. And yes, there are a few.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Final appearances: Sunday represents the cold nature of the NFL. Major change is coming for a Colts franchise that will miss the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time in a quarter century and has endured just its second double-digit loss season in the past 16 years.
That change undoubtedly begins at the top with Pagano, who’s under contract through 2019. He’s the fifth-winningest coach in team history (55-46, including 3-3 in three playoff appearances in six seasons), but new direction is needed and first-time general manager Chris Ballard probably wants to bring in a replacement of his choosing.
Pagano was asked how at peace he is with whatever happens following the game or Monday.
“Great peace,’’ he said. “Couldn’t be in a better spot.
“Worry about today. When tomorrow comes, we’ll worry about tomorrow.’’
Several high-profile players also could be making their final appearance in a Colts uniform. Pending free agents include placekicker Adam Vinatieri, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Donte Moncrief, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, guard Jack Mewhort and safety Darius Butler.
A few of those free-agents-to-be likely will be re-signed, most notably Vinatieri and Melvin. The others hit the open market in late February.
On a personal note, fans should take time to appreciate and applaud Gore, if indeed Sunday is his final game in Indy. He’s a throwback player – would have been a perfect fit during the Peyton Manning years – and his veteran presence will be missed. There’s still tread on his 34-year old tires.
- Looking ahead: It’s gotten very simple. The Colts will draft no lower than 3rd overall in next April’s NFL draft. At 3-12, they sit behind 0-15 Cleveland and the 2-13 New York Giants. They could shimmy up to the No. 2 rung with a loss to 4-11 Houston AND a Giants’ win at home against 7-8 Washington.
The Colts are 5-0 in season finales under Pagano, and while a sixth straight win to close a season would erase any chance at upward mobility in the draft, it would enable them to escape the AFC South basement and impact their 2018 schedule. A fourth-place finish in the division currently has the Browns (home) and Denver (away) among next season’s opponents. A third-place finish results in a home meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals and a road game with either the Broncos or Oakland Raiders.
- Numbers game: A few players are chasing individual milestones, and why not give them every opportunity to achieve them?
T.Y. Hilton needs 48 yards to join Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne as the only players in team history with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Harrison and Wayne share the club record with eight 1,000-yard seasons.
Jack Doyle already has piled up a career-high 76 receptions, and needs two more to finish with the second-most by a tight end in team history. Dallas Clark posted a record 100 in 2009 and 77 in ’08.
Gore, meanwhile, needs 139 rushing yards to post his second straight 1,000-yard season and 10th in 13 seasons. Good luck with that. Gore has rushed for at least 139 yards only 10 times during his 195-game career, the last being in the 2014 season wrap-up with the San Francisco 49ers. He’s cracked the 100-yard mark just three times in 47 games with the Colts, topped by his 130-yard outing in arctic Buffalo.
Gore also needs 105 yards from scrimmage to reach 1,200 and extend his NFL record to 12 consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 yards.
- And the winner is: Colts 24, Texans 16. Even though a victory costs them any shot at the 2nd overall pick in the April draft, let ‘em enjoy the moment. They’ve lost six straight and it’s worth noting their last win came Nov. 5 against these same Texans in Houston.