INDIANAPOLIS – So much were the events of a few hours previous weighing on the mind of Chuck Pagano, his first championship as an NFL coach came and went without him noticing.
“I really have no idea, to be honest with you,” said the Colts’ head coach when asked when he heard the news that the Titans lost, giving the Colts the AFC South title. “We were on a staff bus with all the coaches. It wasn’t like being on a plane and catching the news and seeing the reaction.
“If it was much like our bus, again, we wanted to go down there and play well and win a football game and get in because we won the football game.”
That didn’t happen on Sunday afternoon, where the Colts’ saw their inconsistent ways manifest themselves on a chilly field at Paul Brown Stadium. A 42-28 loss to the Bengals featured a number of the flaws on both sides of the ball that have plagued the team the past month and have tempered the celebration over the team’s first division title since 2010.
“We wanted to get it going through the front door by winning, but it didn’t happen,” said quarterback Andrew Luck on winning the AFC South after a loss. “There’s still a lot to be proud about. We know we’re not playing like we want to at this point, but we also realize the season is not over and we’ve got a lot of games left and hopefully can build on that and go into the playoffs strong.”
At the moment the best football the team has played this season came before their bye week in October and prior to the season-ending injury to receiver Reggie Wayne. Since then the Colts have had a stretch where they have won a game and then lost the next week, repeating that pattern over the past six weeks.
That’s the longest stretch for the team since the 2002 season, when the team followed that pattern in their last five games of the season and then a playoff loss to the Jets. That’s not the Indianapolis-era Colts record, which belongs to the 1994 team that had their win-loss pattern continue for ten consecutive weeks.
After a win the following Sunday over the Titans at home the Colts found themselves reverting to bad habits again as they fell behind 21-0 and were never able to make enough plays to catch up. Peyton Manning and the Broncos helped to make it a championship day with their win over Tennessee, but it made for some unusual feelings around the team’s 56th Street complex on Monday.
” We certainly wanted to do it on our own, so to speak. Win the football game. But then I said ‘Hey look, there’s only one organization, one NFL team in the National Football League right now that has hats. That has clinched their division. And that’s the Colts,’” said Pagano “Everybody got a schedule at the beginning of the year, 16 games on it. We did enough, the players did enough good things early in the season. Beat some really good football teams as we all know.
“Again, we did attain and reach our number one goal on the goal sheet and that was to win the division. We have that in the bank and now we’ll build on that and try to move forward and move to our second goal.”
For Robert Mathis, that begins with the defense. The unit has been inconsistent along with the rest of the team and allowed 40 points for the second time in three weeks on Sunday afternoon and failed to get a quarterback hit or sack on Andy Dalton.
“Not satisfied at all,” said Mathis of the defense. “We have to play as one unit. We’ve showed what we can do. When we’re hot, we’re tough to deal with. We have to be that team consistently. You want to be consistent. If you can be consistent, we’re tough to deal with.
“I think we can go all the way when we play the style of football we know we can play.”
If they do that, then they will be front and center the next time they take home a championship.