Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

January 14, 2014

Downer finale doesn’t change Colts’ positives

Brent Glasgow
Hendricks County Flyer

— A fine season for the Indianapolis Colts ended with a whimper Saturday at New England, but in recent team history, it was far from the most disappointing postseason defeat.

In actuality, I’d put it as the third-worst playoff loss for the Colts in Foxboro, trailing the eggs laid by the juggernaut 2003 and ‘04 squads that put up 17 total points in two trips there. And on a list low-lighted by the ‘05 team’s home flop against Pittsburgh, followed closely by two San Diego embarrassments in ‘07 and ‘08, I’d put it no worse than the eighth-crappiest postseason loss since 1999.

Fans can throw dirt on the 2013 Colts season knowing that the team maxed out. With the most injury-depleted roster in the NFL, they beat some of the league’s best teams, ruined Peyton Manning’s homecoming, won the AFC South, made the playoffs and notched the second-biggest comeback in the near century-long history of the NFL.

Sure, a trip to Denver to face Manning with the AFC crown on the line would’ve been nice, but that possibility was greatly reduced when Andrew Luck threw a pick-6 Saturday on the game’s third play. It was erased completely when the Colts couldn’t get more than two points out of the Patriots’ botched punt in the second quarter.

Even if you hate them, you should appreciate the Pats for what they are — the best organization in football. Tom Brady is the only active player from their last Super Bowl win nine years ago, but they’ll play in their third straight AFC title game on Sunday, and eighth since he took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. They have a chance to reach their sixth Super Bowl in 13 years, with one of their least talented teams and one plagued by injuries and a murder case.

For the Colts, the future is bright, especially on offense. Luck will learn his lesson from the turnover-fest he produced this postseason. The return of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen, and the further development of T.Y. Hilton, Da’Rick Rogers and Coby Fleener will provide a receiving arsenal. If Donald Brown resigns, he’ll join Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard in a tough, diverse backfield rotation. Ultimate success will come down to improvement in the line, and its ability to open holes and keep Luck off his back.

Led by Robert Mathis’ career year, the defense had its ups and downs this season, and will have to become more consistent. It had remarkable efforts and really bad ones. I can’t see Antoine Bethea leaving in free agency, and the secondary is close talent-wise to where it needs to be. Former Canadian footballer Jerrell Freeman looks like a Derrick Brooks clone at linebacker, and with even a slight upgrade to the line, can become one of the best in the league at his position.

On special teams, the Adam Vinatieri/Pat McAfee leg combo was fantastic this season. They both have to be resigned, but those two should make it fairly easy. Perhaps one day the Colts will get lucky and find a killer return man. We’ve been waiting for that for a long time.

Head coach Chuck Pagano has to learn from his own mistakes, including the punt on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter Saturday night, and he’ll get there. In this AFC, he has many of the pieces he needs, but like always, team health will go a long way in determining 2014 success.

It’s a long wait until September, but compared to a lot of years, the 2013 season aftertaste isn’t bitter. Besides, the NBA’s best team just might reside in Indy, and they’ll be glad to have your undivided attention.

Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Hendricks County Flyer and Westside Flyer. He can be reached at brent.glasgow@flyergroup.com or 272-5800 ext. 190. Follow him on Twitter @BGlasgow37.