If Sunday is indeed his final game as Indianapolis Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano went out a winner but his 8-8 team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Colts needed a miracle, nine favorable outcomes to secure a tiebreaker, but the Houston Texans (9-7) ended those hopes with a 30-6 home win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the AFC South Division title.
If nothing else, a 30-24 Colts victory over Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium meant the lowly 3-13 Titans clinched the No. 1 selection in April’s NFL Draft.
Where Pagano will be by then is anyone’s guess. He’s not expected to be retained by the Colts after posting a 44-26 record. General manager Ryan Grigson’s future is also the topic of much debate. Pagano supporters are convinced the GM was as responsible for 2015’s downfall as anyone.
The two-time defending AFC South Division champions were supposed to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. At least that’s what the buzz was in the offseason. But a shaky offensive line, continual quarterback injuries and a defense that deteriorated in the clutch too many times were obvious reasons for the collapse.
Colts owner Jim Irsay has been silent for much of the season, one for which he had expressed “high” expectations in preseason. He issued a statement this week, in response to widespread reports about Pagano’s impending departure, that the Colts had yet to make any such “structural” decisions for 2016.
The Colts’ victory was surprisingly entertaining considering both teams used two different backup quarterbacks. It’s not every day that you see an NFL game with Josh Freeman, Ryan Lindley, Zach Mettenberger and Alex Tanney taking snaps.
Freeman and Lindley, signed by the Colts during the week after Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst were injured the previous game, had the home team ahead 27-14 in the third quarter despite the fact that neither quarterback had played an NFL down this season.
Freeman drove the Colts to a field goal on their opening possession and threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener in the second quarter. Lindley entered late in the opening half and ran the two-minute offense well. He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson for a 20-14 Colts lead at halftime.
Mettenberger ran 5 yards for a score one play after the Colts committed their 30th turnover of the season, but was otherwise ineffective. Safety Dwight Lowery tipped a Mettenberger pass that inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman caught and returned 23 yards for a touchdown for the 13-point advantage in the third quarter. The Titans quarterback exited after that throw with what was described as a forearm injury.
That meant the Colts would finish this unpredictable season against Tanney, who spent the bulk of the year on Indy’s practice squad before being claimed by the Titans two weeks ago.
The Titans rallied to reduce the deficit to 27-24 in the final quarter, but the Colts held on. Jerrell Freeman had a third-down sack on the Titans' final possesion and Tanney threw incomplete on fourth down.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.