INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The inevitable has been staring at the Indianapolis Colts, seemingly since they took their first step into the 2017 season without Andrew Luck and were throttled by the Los Angeles Rams.
It became more clear with each passing week, each frustrating loss.
The inevitable was replaced by reality Sunday at Jacksonville’s EverBank Stadium. And it was a sobering dose of reality, one not lost on owner Jim Irsay as he departed the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room following their 30-10 loss to the Jaguars.
“Obviously disappointed,’’ he said.
Then he was gone.
But the reality remained. The Colts returned home 3-9. Suddenly the 8-8 finishes of the past two seasons don’t appear so unsightly do they. Consider they:
- will finish with their first losing record since 2011 and just the second in the last 16 seasons.
- are saddled with a non-winning record in three straight seasons for just the third time since their relocation in 1984 and the first time since 1989-91. They will miss the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time since a seven-year drought in 1988-94.
- were eliminated from the AFC South, which they once absolutely owned, with a month to play. Since setting an NFL record with 16 straight division wins during the 2015 season, the Colts are 5-9 inside the AFC South.
Welcome to Losersville, a neighborhood the Colts have been rather adept at avoiding. Until now.
“Nobody wants ‘em, and they aren’t used to it,’’ Chuck Pagano said of the losing record. “We had a heckuva run for three years, then two 8-8s and now we’re sitting where we’re sitting.
“It’s unacceptable and every guy in that locker room will tell you that. We don’t want to be where we are, but we are. How you deal with adversity, with circumstances, better prepares you for the next one. That’s what we’re going to do.’’
Losing, echoed veteran safety Darius Butler, “sucks. It’s as simple as that, especially (with) what we do and work all week to come out here on Sundays and have it not fall our way . . . we got roughed up today.
“We’ve got to find a way to draw a line in the sand.’’
In all honesty, it’s a bit late for that. The final four games of the season have been reduced to playing for pride and future employment for players and coaches.
Chris Ballard has been evaluating every phase of football operations from the first day he sat in the general manager’s chair. Is Pagano doing the job considering he’s been without his $140 million QB all season and other front-line players have missed significant time? How about coordinators Rob Chudzinski and Ted Monachino? Which players have proven they are part of the future and not part of the problem?
The roster endured massive turnover last offseason. Expect more of the same next offseason, and that very well could include Pagano and much of his staff.
It seems ironic the Jacksonville Jaguars represent something of a litmus test for Ballard’s evaluation. It hasn’t been that long ago the Colts were the bully in the series, at one point winning 15 of 21. That seems like ages ago. The Jaguars have won four of the last five and swept Indy this year by a combined 57-10 score. The last time the Colts stepped on EverBank Field (December 2015), they were annihilated 51-16.
In their 27-0 drubbing of the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Jaguars defense sacked Jacoby Brissett 10 times, hit him on another 10 occasions and slapped Indy with its first shutout in 24 years. Blake Bortles passed for 330 yards and a touchdown.
Only the final score was different Sunday. The Jaguars’ No. 1-ranked defense once again roughed up Brissett – four sacks, four hits, constant pressure – and added a pair of interceptions. Bortles, seldom pressured, continued to use Monchino’s defense for target practice. He passed for 309 yards and a pair of TDs. Bortles was absolutely lethal on third down, completing 11-of-14 passes for 116, both TDs and a ridiculous 140.8 passer rating.
Jacksonville piled up 426 yards and scored on its first five possessions. The Jaguars even rubbed it in with a nifty fake punt on their opening drive – Brad Nortman’s 29-yard hookup with James O’Shaughnessy.
“It’s got nothing to do with effort,’’ Pagano said. “It’s got nothing to do with fighting. These guys battle and they battle. You just can’t make the mistakes we’re making and win football games.’’
The two Brissett interceptions, including the first inside Jacksonville’s 20-yard line with the Colts trying to cut into a 16-3 deficit with time winding down in the second quarter.
“I just have to be better down there,’’ said Brissett, who passed for just 174 yards and a 40-yard TD to T.Y. Hilton.
The four sacks, although Brissett could have avoided one had he thrown the ball away inside of run out of bounds. Pagano noted Brissett might have escaped “three or four more’’ sacks with his “toughness and escapability.’’
There were four penalties – actually a good day for the Colts – and more than a few missed tackles. And again, that fake punt.
It all added up to the latest loss in a lost season.
Despite the reality of the situation, Pagano insisted the Colts will finish with a strong closing kick. Their final four opponents: at Buffalo Sunday, home with Denver Dec. 14, at Baltimore Dec. 23, home with Houston Dec. 31.
“We’ve got four left and we’re going to fight our butts off to win every last one of those,’’ he said. “That’s what pros do. That’s what we all signed up for.
“What are you going to do? Lay down?’’
That won’t happen, Pagano stressed.
“It’s the name on the back of your jersey and the decal on your helmet,’’ he said. “At the end of the day it isn’t about money and cars and this, that and the other.
“It’s pride. It’s doing things the right way.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.