by Kent Sterling
The obituaries were being written, and reporters were ready to pronounce the Indianapolis Colts dead for 2015.
Behind 27-14 in Nashville as the clock ticked under seven minutes to play, the Colts awakened with a fury unseen since the startling comeback win against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 wild card round of the playoffs. It was about time and just in time.
Less than a minute later, the Colts led 28-27 after touchdown passes from Andrew Luck to Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief, and with just under three minutes left, Frank Gore scored his first touchdown as a Colt to provide the final points needed to escape Nashville with a much needed win.
If the Colts hadn’t suddenly found their mojo and lost this game, the negative momentum would have dipped far below the line where return might have been possible, and the season certainly would have been lost.
That would have left coach Chuck Pagano dangling from a very thin thread, and the Colts string of three consecutive 11-5 seasons and trips to the playoffs a distant memory.
Instead, the Colts ran their streak of consecutive division wins to 14 with the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars coming to town this weekend as the opponent that should allow the Colts to tie the all-time mark of 15.
Why the Colts have been successful during the 2012-2014 stretch seems to be a debate that rages within the halls of the Colts offices on West 56th Street. Is it a matter of quarterback Andrew Luck being so special that the Colts succeed because of him alone? Is it their residence in the putrid AFC South that allows a team unable to succeed in the postseason to rise to qualify for the playoffs? Is Chuck Pagano a leader that drives success, or is he a caretaker who doesn’t get in the way of wins Luck can earn on his own? Is it the results of GM Ryan Grigson’s bold drafts, trade, and free agent signings, or did he do all the heavy lifting needed to dominate the AFC South during his first draft?
The answer is a combination of the four, but in what proportion is the debate that drove the decision by owner Jim Irsay and Grigson to not give Pagano an well-earned extension after 2014, rendering him a lame duck for 2015.
Players love Pagano. They speak publicly and privately of their respect for the man and his methods, and unless the Colts’ talents as thespians stretch far beyond Luck’s search for Mr. Jaffers and his efforts to provide luck for investors by pulling out hair from his beard, the love is genuine.
The first two losses against the Bills and Jets were filled with turnovers and penalties, and so was this game. While everyone with a Colts hat or jersey in his or her closet will revel in the final magical seven minutes of this win, the gap between this version of the Colts and championship caliber football is enormous.
Luck’s two interceptions were ridiculous, and Hugh Thornton’s penalties alone were enough to stall four drives.
Those problems weren’t enough to kill the Colts against a team like the Titans, but unless they are quickly corrected, the Patriots, Broncos, Panthers, and Falcons loom as undefeated opponents later in the regular season.
Thankfully, the narrative for this week will not be one of doom and gloom, but will give those who predicted success even beyond the 11-5 records of the last three seasons a chance to exhale. That means more positive questions to players and coaches, and a better all around mood around Indianapolis.
The Colts head into Week Four tied with the other three teams in their division for both first and last, and that gives them a chance to continue to build toward something meaningful in January.
Is it likely the Colts solve each of their fatal flaws prior to the end of the regular season? No. There are just too many, and they are too serious. But at least for one week, this city so used to excellence and success can look ahead with enthusiasm, and Pagano can believe that he is the right man to lead these Colts to the promised land – even if that opinion is unshared by his bosses.