INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Colts once again have lost their way, and reside in the basement of the NFL’s worst division.
The most significant offshoot of blowing a 14-point with less 3 minutes to play Sunday night in Houston and carting home a 26-23 overtime loss was being banished to last place in the AFC South. That’s the reward for a historic collapse and 2-4 record.
And that’s categorically unacceptable for a franchise that’s won nine of 14 division titles since 2002.
Chuck Pagano made that clear when asked if the team’s long-term expectations were adjusted when owner Jim Irsay decided to retain him and general manager Ryan Grigson in January with contracts that tie them to the team – and each other – through the 2019 season. No one in the local market would have been shocked had Irsay decided to push the reset button after his team finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Suddenly, the Colts are in danger of failing to reach the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
“The expectations are the expectations. Those never change,’’ Pagano said Monday. “This is a winning organization. They’ve won a ton before I got here. We’ve had good success since I’ve been here and the expectation is to win.
“Our goal – my goal and the team’s goal – is not any different whether you have zero years or you have one year (on a contract). I’ve said it before (that) we’re all on one-day contracts. That’s it. One-day contracts and everybody that plays and coaches in this league understand that.
“As long as you understand that you can deal with that, and that doesn’t affect how you go about your business day-in and day-out. We’re going to come in and do the very best we can to prepare these guys to go out and play winning football and to win. That’s it. Nothing else matters.’’
The collapse against the Texans, though, was the latest evidence these aren’t the same Colts that for so long owned the AFC South and for so long found ways to win close games.
Since setting an NFL record by winning 16 straight games against division opponents, the Colts have lost four of their last five inside the AFC South. The decline began with a 51-16 blowout loss at Jacksonville Dec. 13.
And while the Colts still own the league’s best record in games decided by 8 points or fewer since 2012 – 28-11, ahead of Denver’s 21-11 and San Francisco’s 17-9-1 – their ability to perform under pressure has waned. They were 19-4 in Pagano’s first three years, 9-7 since.
Through it all, Pagano remains upbeat.
“You guys probably think I’m crazy, but I’m really encouraged because we’ve got a group of guys and coaches that care,’’ he said. “They’ll fight. There’s no pity parties in this building. There’s no pity parties in football.’’
Not that it needs it, but we’ll offer more perspective on the Colts’ blowing the 14-point fourth-quarter lead at Houston.
It marked just the fourth time in team history, and the first time since 1983, the Colts have lost after leading by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter. The most recent was losing to Denver 21-19 Dec. 11, 1983 after taking a 19-0 lead into the fourth period.
The others: a 17-14 loss to Philadelphia in 1978 after leading 14-0, and a 24-21 loss to Green Bay in 1957 after leading 21-0.
Pagano was unable to provide a status update on players injured at Houston. That includes tight end Dwayne Allen (right ankle), defensive lineman Henry Anderson (left knee), rookie linebacker Curt Maggitt (ankle), wide receivers Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) and Quan Bray (ankle) and cornerback Darius Butler (cramps).
It doesn’t sound as if wideout Donte Moncrief will be available for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans. He’s missed the last four games with a fractured left scapula.
“He’s getting closer,’’ Pagano said. “I can’t give you a date or a game or a timetable, but he’s getting closer.’’