Head coach Chuck Pagano had predicted two days earlier that his Indianapolis Colts would show up and play well Sunday.
That didn’t happen.
Pagano said they would protect banged-up quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, that the O-line would play its best game of the season. Hasselbeck was sacked twice, took eight hits and added a jaw injury to his list of ailments, which include a separated rib, sore back and neck issue.
Again, the Colts didn’t keep their quarterback clean.
Pagano assured the Colts would run the ball and make life easier on their 40-year-old quarterback. Running back Frank Gore managed just 44 yards on 16 carries (2.8 per carry). The team finished with 50 yards rushing on 19 carries (2.6 yards per carry).
Just like for much of the past two months, the ground game didn’t get going.
Pagano said he knew the character of his team, its DNA, but the Colts wasted an early 10-0 lead and failed to score in the second half of Sunday’s 16-10 loss to the visiting Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts finished with a season-low 190 total yards, the fewest yards since 2011.
Once again, the Colts failed to respond to the challenge in losing their third consecutive game to fall to 6-8. And this game likely sentences to the Colts to an offseason of “what ifs” and change. ESPN estimated the Texans' chance of winning the AFC South Division at 86 percent, based on its Football Power Index.
Barring a Texans (7-7) collapse at Tennessee and at home against Jacksonville, a Colts team touted as legit Super Bowl contenders in the offseason likely misses the playoffs for the first time in Pagano’s four years. The tiebreakers could make scenarios interesting if the Texans stumble once and the Colts win out, but the current situation isn't promising.
It won’t be a Merry Christmas for the boys in blue, to say the least, let alone what could happen in January after the regular season ends.
“My emotions? We just lost,” inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “How do you think I feel?
“We lost. That pretty much sums it up.”
Hasselbeck, the backup who had won his first four starts in place of the injured Andrew Luck, couldn’t lead the Colts back after they fell behind early in the fourth quarter. The last two possessions ended in turnovers as wide receiver Griff Whalen fumbled after a catch and then Hasselbeck misread wide receiver Donte Moncrief’s deep route and threw an easy interception to the Texans’ A.J. Bouye.
“This opportunity was right there, right there,” Hasselbeck said after suffering his third consecutive loss. “All we had to do was seize it, and we didn’t.”
He spoke of how the Colts thought they could win if they won the turnover battle and played smart. But even after the Texans lost their starting quarterback, backup T.J. Yates, in the second quarter and turned to Brandon Weeden, the Colts couldn’t finish.
The visitors rallied from 10-3 down at halftime as Weeden completed 11-of-18 passes for 105 yards and an 8-yard TD pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong to take a 13-10 lead early in the final quarter.
The Texans prevailed with their fourth quarterback of the season. The Colts briefly had to turn to their third when Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game after taking a fourth-quarter shot to the jaw. Charlie Whitehurst entered, raised hopes with a 13-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton, but he was then sacked and the drive stalled.
Hasselbeck completed 17-of-30 passes for 147 yards. Hilton, the team's Pro Bowl wide receiver who had so often victimized the Texans in the past, had just three catches for 29 yards.
Unlike the Colts, the Texans ran the ball effectively as Alfred Blue finished with 107 yards on 20 carries (5.4 yards per carry). The Texans as a team finished with 155 yards rushing on 37 carries (4.2 yards per carry).
Pagano said his team would keep fighting with a road game at Miami and regular-season home finale against Tennessee. But the disappointment in everyone’s voices was most evident. And telling.
“Until they mathematically say you’re done,” Pagano said, “we’re fighting.”
Outside linebacker Erik Walden had said during the week it was time for the Colts to “Man up.”
Again, that didn’t happen.
“There aren’t any excuses,” Walden said. “We just didn’t get the job done. There really isn’t too much you can say about it.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.