Pagano put into context the Colts' offensive struggles by saying Luck's four turnovers in Monday's 20-7 home loss to the New York Jets weren't all the passer's fault. Contrary to the way he sounded after the loss, Pagano made it clear he's grateful to have such a talented quarterback.
“No, nobody wants to turn the ball over. Us as an organization, us as a staff, whether it’s me, the quarterback doesn’t want to do it," Pagano said on a Tuesday conference call. "It’s not all on our quarterback.
"When you look at this thing, thank God we have the guy that we have. Thank God we have the leaders in our locker room who’ve been able to go through some tough times and bounce back time and time again."
Pagano repeated his position after Wednesday's practice: "It's not just the quarterback."
The Colts' offensive line has failed to pick up blitzes in the first two losses and Luck has tried to make things happen. The three-time Pro Bowl passer has been intercepted five times and lost one fumble in two games. Two of his interceptions against the Jets were after he was hit on the throw. On the third interception, he was about to be hit by a Jets blitzer who wasn't picked up.
While Pagano's frustration with an offense that has scored a league-low 21 points is understandable, eyebrows raised when he pointed a finger at Luck. Despite the fact his quarterback has been hit as much as any other in the past three seasons and taken 102 sacks in 50 games, Pagano suggested after the game it was part of the job and that Luck typically handles getting hit and still makes plays.
On Tuesday, Pagano attempted to clarify his previous comments.
"You talk about when I got asked the question about the quarterback, the timing, this that and the other, all that stuff. He’s been doing phenomenal things for us over the last three years," the coach said. "He makes huge plays. We put a lot on his plate, and he handles it extremely well. He manages the game. He finds a way when we do have a breakdown here or there in a protection. He’s big and he’s strong and he’s athletic and he can escape and he can extend plays. We’ve seen it time and time again where he’s been able to, when things do breakdown, make huge plays for us.
"We’ve won, obviously we win as a team and no one man is responsible for it. We do it collectively obviously. We need everybody, but obviously he plays a major, major role in that. We’ve got to play more consistent. We have to eliminate the friendly fire, eliminate the penalties, take care of the football, ball security is No. 1 obviously. We’ve got to do a better job of it.”
That the Colts were able to rebuild so quickly after a 2-14 season in 2011 is attributed mostly to the selection of Luck with the 2012 No. 1 overall pick. He's set numerous passing records, led the team to the playoffs after 11-win seasons in each of his three years. Always humble in nature, Luck is quick to blame himself when anything goes wrong, and he pointed the finger at himself after the latest loss.
But the Colts proved to be susceptible to blitzes in the first two games. While Luck wasn't sacked by the Jets, he was hit repeatedly. It was the same in an opening 27-14 loss at Buffalo.
Pagano was asked about his post-game comments which referred to how Luck should be used to getting hit the past three years.
“No, it’s really complimenting our quarterback is what I was doing there," he said. "You guys know how many different lineups we’ve had because of injuries and this, that and the other. That’s well-documented over the last three years."
The Colts used 11 different starting offensive line combinations last season.
"The way he’s been able to perform and lead this football team, 11 wins three straight years, playoff wins and all those things, that’s what that was, because we were talking about this, that and the other with the clock and it was saying, ‘Hey guys, we got one hell of a quarterback. We’ve got a great player and a great leader there.'" the caoch said. "If anybody handles that type of adversity any better then, and there are some great quarterbacks obviously around this league, but again it was more of, ‘Hey we’re lucky that we’ve got Andrew.’
"He’s had to deal with that over the course of the first three years when we do have some issues and things break down. Again, people are going to put pressure on you, people are going to come after you in different ways and it’s not always going to be perfect. But that kid has found a way to extend plays and make plays right when everybody thought the down was over.”
The inability to establish a consistent run game despite the addition of running back Frank Gore has put more of the onus on Luck to carry the load. He's done it in the past. But he's been unable to do it so far this season.
Pagano said the team will continue to try to short out shortcomings on the offensive line.
"Well, we’re going to continue – some guys came in last night right after the game," he said. "Guys are here early, and we’re going to obviously continue to look at it. We’ve got to be better. We play well at times and then we have some issues and some breakdowns. We’ve got to get better, and we’ve got to get it shored up.
"We’ll continue to look at ourselves and find some answers. We’ve got to come up with some obviously in a hurry. We’ve got a short, short week. We’ll figure this thing out. We’ve been here before. Whether it’s because of injuries, this, that and the other. We’ve had a lot of guys step up and play some good football for us, really good football, winning football. I know we’ll get it corrected and we’ll get this ship righted so to speak and we’ll play better.”
The Colts take a 13-game AFC South Division winning streak to Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, against the Tennessee Titans (1-1). After starting 0-2 last year, the Colts rebounded with five consecutive wins, including three against division foes. After the Titans, the Colts have two more AFC South foes on the schedule with Jacksonville at home and Houston on the road.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.