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Colts' latest loss seems destined to force change

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, center, is hit as he throws by Houston Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) and linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) during the Colts' 22-17 loss Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, center, is hit as he throws by Houston Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) and linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) during the Colts' 22-17 loss Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo by the Associated Press)

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Playoff chances slip to slim with poor performance.

Sunday, December 11, 2016 5:56 PM

INDIANAPOLIS – Colts quarterback Andrew Luck passed on the chance to assess the real damage of another loss to the Houston Texans.

He took his share of the blame for two interceptions, a fumble, red zone inefficiency and a failed 4th-and-1 play with the game and season on the line.

But if we want something more after the Colts’ 22-17 loss to the Texans on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll have to look elsewhere. Or say it ourselves.

“It’s hard to sort of digest big implications,” Luck said.

This entire Colts season has been hard to digest. But as the Colts fall to 6-7 and require a number of factors to make the playoffs, there's an inevitable implication hurtling toward Indianapolis: Something has to change.

You can place blame all around. Blame owner Jim Irsay for bringing back general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano this season. Blame Grigson for signing or drafting the wrong players. Blame Pagano for his personnel requests, schemes and offensive approach.

Blame offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for calling a screen pass – or at least making that an option, despite the Colts not being adept at such plays – on the pivotal 4th-and-1. Blame Luck for high passes and poor decisions. Blame Phillip Dorsett for an inability to catch the football when it hits him in the hands. Blame the return of too many Colts penalties.

You want a big implication? How about this: Last season’s eventful offseason might pale in comparison to this season’s eventful offseason.

Irsay will be forced to rethink his decision to stick with Grigson and Pagano. Whoever is in charge of personnel after that decision will have to rethink the roster.

The Colts are about to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, and this time with Luck healthy.

“We have good leadership, we have men of character and we have tough guys,” Pagano said.

They don’t have enough wins.

In the NFL, winning is not the only thing, but it’s a strong second to making money, and it's tied to keeping that money flowing. If you don’t win enough, you won’t keep your job as coach or general manager.

Barring a three-game winning streak and joint collapses by the Texans and the Tennessee Titans, which is a possibility, the Colts won’t make the playoffs. The Colts are a game behind the 7-6 Texans and 7-6 Titans. They own a tiebreaker with the Titans, but lose a tiebreaker with the Texans. Erik Walden said the Colts gave the Texans one game (in Houston) and the Texans won one. Unfortunately, there will be no such caveat in the standings.

Even if the Colts make the playoffs through some bumbling by the teams ahead of them and wins over Minnesota, Oakland and Jacksonville, would that be enough to forestall change?

Through the first three seasons of Grigson and Pagano, the Colts were on the rise, culminating in a trip to the AFC title game. It’s been one long stretch of mediocrity since. Yes, Luck was injured last season. He’s healthy now, and part of a group that faced its biggest do-or-die game and failed.

“We laid down. It’s simple,” Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “Guys didn’t make plays that were supposed to make plays.”

Pagano, like Luck, passed on diving too much into the big picture.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Pagano said.

The Colts’ failures against the Texans included, but were not limited to, stalling in the red zone, failing to down a punt inside the Texans’ 5-yard line, and giving up a six-point swing at the end of the half with an Adam Vinatieri missed field goal (from 55 yards) and a made field goal by Houston’s Nick Novak.

Then there was the ridiculous site of tight end Dwayne Allen attempting to block Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney one-on-one and having it turn into a sack/strip of Luck. Instead of at least a field goal that would have closed the Houston lead to 16-13, the Colts came up empty.

“That was the protection,” Pagano said when asked why the Colts had Allen blocking Clowney one-on-one.

To those of us on the outside, that seemed like a bad strategy, and not just because we saw the end result. Clowney is a handful for even the best offensive linemen to handle. Allen is a good blocker for a tight end. He’s no match for Clowney.

Another questionable play came at the end. Thanks to a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Luck to Hilton, the Colts had a chance to win, despite not playing well. They took over at their own 25 with 2:47 left and no timeouts, trailing by five points. Luck directed them to midfield and hit Hilton for a six-yard gain to make it 4th-and-1 at the Houston 42.

The Colts lined up. Houston called time out, and switched some defensive personnel.

“We changed our call,” Pagano said. “They executed. We didn’t.”

Luck took the shotgun snap with receivers spread to both sides, looked left and tried to snap a screen pass to running back Robert Turbin. It hit the turf, just like the Colts’ playoff hopes.

“There were multiple options on the play,” Luck said.

The Colts will have multiple options when this season reaches its end. The only one that can’t be considered viable at this point: Maintaining the status quo.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1

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