In searching for a photograph to sum up where we’re at with the Indianapolis Colts on this Christmas holiday, the shot of a young fan in sunglasses at Jacksonville seemed to say a thousand words. Well, at least five.
Yeah, we’ve seen better days.
That young fan sure didn’t expect to see a 51-16 embarrassment that day. We sure didn’t expect to see the Colts 6-8 and on the brink of being counted out for the playoffs by Christmas.
Nobody wants to read a bunch of negatives they already know, especially today. So I’ll try to share proverbial stocking stuffers that aren’t lumps of coal. That might be a bit difficult, but I’ll try.
Head coach Chuck Pagano’s opening remarks to reporters Thursday were noteworthy.
“Merry Christmas to everybody, an early one,” he said. “I hope you have a great holiday and I sincerely mean that. You guys have been very, very good to me. Seriously, very, very good to me. I respect the job that you guys do and the job that you have and I want you to know that and that’s sincere.”
The sentiment is appreciated. And rather unusual. We spend so much time on the NFL grind, from August to January, life in our trenches rarely gets warm ’n’ fuzzy. But Pagano has sounded different lately, as if he knows his fate at season’s end. Remember how he said a couple of weeks ago not to worry about him? That caught me off guard. And now this.
When we passed each other in the Lucas Oil Stadium locker room Sunday after the 16-10 loss to the Houston Texans, I didn’t expect him to say anything. But we wished each other "Merry Christmas."
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis and I exchanged the same wish Tuesday in the locker room, a classy gesture from the understated team leader. Again, it caught me a bit off guard when he said it first. It reminded me these guys can be thoughtful. It’s not all about football.
Back to Sunday, it’s my understanding some fans took issue with inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson sharing a similar sentiment after the Texans loss, that he was looking forward to spending the holiday with his family and friends, that there was more to life than football.
I understand why that rubbed some people the wrong way. I’ve often heard players try to direct reporters’ attentions to a bigger picture after games, particularly after losses. It’s not going to work, not with those of us who have been doing this a long time, because fans want us to ask the right questions of the players every time, especially after losing such an important game.
It’s not that DQ didn’t care about losing. He did enough of that for eight years in Cleveland. At some point, when a guy has given everything he has and the result is still a loss, there’s not much more that can be said. He’s the defensive leader, and it’s fair to say those guys did their jobs against the Texans. They allowed 13 points, the other three a gift after Griff Whalen’s lost fumble gave Houston the ball in field-goal range. That wins most weeks, but not this time.
Nobody has given more effort than DQ. I spoke to him Tuesday about how he’s played his butt off in his 10th NFL season. The defense has regressed, ranking 29th in points allowed and 28th in total yards allowed. But DQ leads the NFL with 136 total tackles (Colts coaches count 166, but the official stat is NFL.com’s total). He’s scored a touchdown off an interception, had three sacks, defended eight passes and forced a fumble.
He made his first Pro Bowl last season, but it’s easy to see he’s done more this season. And as everyone is aware, the Colts didn’t have anyone selected for the Pro Bowl this time. The selections are “unconferenced,” and all four inside linebackers selected were from the NFC.
Yeah, it’s a popularity contest, but I’m kind of hoping Jackson gets selected again as an alternate, as was the case last year, when he played in the game. He deserves it.
Some have suggested punter Pat McAfee was snubbed, too. No argument. His numbers are better this season than last, when he went to the Pro Bowl and was an All-Pro first-team selection. But that’s the way it goes with these honors.
McAfee has 11 more punts than one of the guys selected, Baltimore’s Sam Koch, with the same 47.7-yard gross average, one more punt downed inside the 20 and two fewer touchbacks. Koch has a higher net average by 2.4 yards at 44, which ranks No. 1 in the NFL. In making a case for "Boomstick," McAfee aslo boomed 56 kickoff touchbacks, which ties for third in the league. Koch doesn’t do kickoffs. And McAfee is an excellent holder on field goals, too.
That said, we probably shouldn’t be too concerned about which players get an all-expense-paid vacation to Hawaii in February, right?
Merry Christmas to everyone. Thank you for reading the stories and clicking on the videos. I appreciate each and every one of you.
Here's hoping each of your stockings include shades that see a brighter future.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.