Sunday’s latest Indianapolis Colts debacle reminded me of Jan. 4, 2003, another forgettable moment in franchise history.
The Colts had just been bounced out of the playoffs in a 41-0 AFC wildcard playoff road loss to the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J.
I asked linebacker Mike Peterson a simple question: "Where do you go from here?"
He snickered and responded, “To the bus.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have the displeasure of flying to Jacksonville Sunday to see the Colts lose 51-16 to the Jaguars at EverBank Field. The same question would need to be asked.
After losing by 35 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time in franchise history and seeing their league-record division win streak of 16 games come to a nightmarish end, where do the Colts go from here?
Peterson’s answer fits more than a player repeating whatever spin was sold in the locker room when reporters arrived.
Just get on the bus and come home. Words don’t mean anything now.
There will be enough time this week to remind everyone that the Colts can still make the playoffs. Even at 6-7, the AFC South Division allows so much latitude when crowning a winner. (Can’t use the word champion because it sure doesn’t seem to fit).
Regardless of what the Houston Texans (6-6) do at home Sunday night against the New England Patriots, the reality is the Colts host their division rivals next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. They beat the Texans in Houston back on Oct. 8, the Texans have never won in Indianapolis in 13 trips, and if the Colts win again, they’ll put themselves in position to win their third consecutive division title and advance to the playoffs for a fourth straight postseason.
That’s as much positive spin as you will read in this analysis. And it’s shared because it’s true, although confidence continues to diminish in the Colts.
We deal with a series of bottom lines after each week’s new chapter to the NFL grind. And bottom line, as has been suggested before, the Colts are going nowhere fast and will live up to the league acronym if they do somehow survive this mess of a season stretch and make the playoffs, as in how will they last come January: “Not For Long.”
Maybe the Colts’ key injury guys will be able to make it back against the Texans. But if offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo can’t suit up and quarterback Andrew Luck does, how will this O-line protect the franchise’s best player against the likes of J.J. Watt?
It was agonizing to watch quarterback Matt Hasselbeck try to fight through the pain of this ugly loss to the Jaguars. He was sidelined once, yet came back and then suffered a rib injury, perhaps a re-aggravation of what he was dealing with from his Pittsburgh pounding, and he was gone.
So the 40-year-old savior is banged up. Luck is recuperating from a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle and relying on a scan to give him the go-ahead to play. Not exactly encouraging. It’s not like he can force his way onto the field because he feels OK. This isn’t a sore muscle we’re talking about.
My media colleagues who made the trip to Jacksonville challenged head coach Chuck Pagano, which was to be expected and justified. It's our job. He walked away in disgust after being pushed about why his team didn’t show more fight.
Pagano as well as general manager Ryan Grigson are responsible for what we are seeing. I know the players well enough to assert they’re giving everything they have to try to win. But the parts aren’t in place to make this happen when it matters most.
It's ultimately up to owner Jim Irsay to determine what needs to be done.
He sees the bottom lines. The O-line is depleted and wasn’t all that good when healthy. The running game is non-existent. I still believe running back Frank Gore has life in his legs, but you can see his frustration, banging into defenders in the backfield too often and doing what he can to earn 1 or 2 yards.
The defense was playing well for a half Sunday, then it all came apart. We were reminded by the Jaguars that the Colts began the day ranked 30th in total defense. Fair to say the guys responsible for tackling and preventing points have regressed, too.
Throw in a punt-return touchdown for a second consecutive week and special teams can take some of the heat as well. This collapse is in all three phases.
What else really can be said? It’s mid-December and no more heroes are running through the door to save the day. The Colts are what they are. And there’s no way they can live up to the expectations that were placed on this team.
We learned early on this season that the Colts weren’t legit Super Bowl contenders. That was offseason hype. Blame the media. Hell, I thought they’d be better than this, too, but was never sold they would make it to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Offensive tackle Joe Reitz said Sunday it’s for every player to look at themselves in a mirror. But this situation is beyond them. The past two weeks have reminded us of the obvious, that the problems start at the top.
Just get on the bus, guys, and fly home.
Nothing more really needs to be said. We all see what’s happening and understand why.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.