The cellular phone has been buzzing since Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium got out of hand.
Emails started pouring in, to my personal account as well as on Facebook. A couple fans have called. The tweets have been non-stop.
Fans are understandably upset. How could the Colts not put up a fight with a Super Bowl XLIX berth on the line?
As I drove about one hour from Gulfport, Miss., to Mobile, Ala., early Monday afternoon, the phone continued to buzz. I’m down here to do three days of player interviews before the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
The message has been the same, of course. Fans are angry. They want the coaching staff gone. They direct their angst at head coach Chuck Pagano.
The Colts arrived at New England with hope. They had taken the next playoff step by reaching the AFC Championship Game with a stirring 24-13 upset of the Broncos in Denver. They had beaten former quarterback Peyton Manning, admittedly with him playing on one healthy leg, but it was still a win.
That was supposed to translate to the Colts having a chance against the rival Patriots.
So the outcome couldn’t have been more disheartening and, to use the popular word of late in light of the Patriots’ football controversy, deflating.
Colts owner Jim Irsay emerged from the locker room and admitted it was disappointing, he said some variation of the word seven times in his first two answers. But he also tried to reassure fans, “We’re close.”
Colts fans were bewildered. Close to what? Being the best second-tier team in the NFL? Because they certainly showed, once again, that they can’t measure up even on a competitive level with the Patriots. And Sunday was a re-run of what we saw three other times during the regular season — a lopsided loss against a quality team.
You remembered a 51-34 loss at Pittsburgh, a 42-20 home setback to these same Patriots, and a 42-7 loss at Dallas in the 15th regular-season game.
And now this. The Patriots lined up with an extra blocker at times and just slammed the ball down the Colts’ throats. LeGarrette Blount, once again, was a blunt instrument of destruction with three touchdown runs and 148 yards rushing.
Quarterback Tom Brady also threw the ball around the field to move the chains and assure victory. His three touchdown passes included one to his offensive left tackle, Nate Solder, on a tackle-eligible play. The Colts didn’t cover him. They blew the assignment.
Yes, Colts fans, it was a nightmare. And I wish I could give you the answers to your questions.
Fans question if Pagano and his coaching staff can get this team over the hump. They aren’t sure general manager Ryan Grigson is the right guy to get enough talent to take that next step. This game was so one-sided, so anti-climactic, can you blame fans for venting this?
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure, either. They’ve won 11 regular-season games in three consecutive seasons. This team has turned it around quickly from 2-14 in 2011, and it helps to have Andrew Luck as the quarterback.
But it’s as if arriving at this destination proved something just isn’t working. Because teams that reach this point should be at least competitive.
Yet the Colts were outplayed, outcoached and outclassed in every possible way.
That goes beyond disappointing, to use Irsay’s oft-uttered word.
The Colts will try to regroup, they’ll spin this as something they can learn from, and set their minds to proving they can be contenders in 2015.
But the way this season ended, with such a demoralizing fall to earth, well, it’s fair to say that fan confidence has been shaken.
Those aren’t my words. Don’t kill the messenger. That’s what I keep reading from fans. The phone just buzzed again a couple of times this morning while typing this. More emails.
And I’m sure it’s not going to stop any time soon.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.