INDIANAPOLIS – Fans want the Indianapolis Colts players to be livid or outraged, vowing to get back on track with someone's bloodshed as soon as possible. That's not how the NFL works.
Players know what fans can't fathom: Every week is its own entity.
Fans might have broken things at home Sunday. (Helpful tip: Buy a Nerf ball to throw at the TV.) The Colts know tantrums solve nothing. Emotional outbursts can, in fact, be counterproductive.
What happened the previous week and what happens the next week can bear no resemblance to what happens on any given Sunday. The Colts were crushed 38-8 by the previously well-below-average St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium in a game that wasn't as close as that final score indicates.
“They beat us fair and square,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said, “in every which way they probably could.”
The Colts were awful on offense, defense, special teams and probably warm-ups, if I'd have been paying closer attention two hours before the game. They gave up three touchdowns to Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin (98-yard punt return, 57- and 68-yard pass receptions), who was barely a household name in the Austin family.
There are ongoing problems the Colts must address, including a trend of playing lousy offense, with uninspired play-calling, early in games. And the Colts were irritated and embarrassed by their performance. Coach Chuck Pagano said, flat-out, he didn't have his team prepared to play. That's kind of his job, so he needs to fix that.
But the Colts recognize reality, too. They can't be livid after losses any more than they can be sky high after wins. They can't be outraged for long stretches during a 16-game regular season. They're playing again, at AFC South rival Tennessee, on Thursday night.
Fans want blood. The Colts – like all NFL teams – plan to regroup and get back to work.
“There are 32 teams professional teams,” Colts center Samson Satele said. “Even though before the game, we're supposed to win the game, they're still a professional team. They just outplayed us.
“Every week, it's hard to win in this league. It stinks right now, but we have seven more games and we'll see what we're going to do about it.”
Defensive end Cory Redding comes from the same angle. In the NFL, you take your wins and losses and you move on from both.
“Regardless of what happened, we know what we have,” Redding said. “Our mental mentality, our toughness, our belief in one another has not wavered. They were the better team today. They outplayed us, period. You can't take nothing away from the Rams. They came and executed well. We didn't. Best thing about the game is we go back out and play Tennessee on Thursday.”
It's clear the Colts aren't the same offense without injured wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Luck's security blanket is gone. The offense's swagger is reduced. And offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has yet to realize he must use his No.1 weapon (Luck's arm) early in games to pounce on opponents, rather than establishing a running game that rarely gets established.
Luck was forced to try to force the action, and he had a poor game with some misleading stats (29 of 47, 353 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions). The Colts were 2-for-12 on third-down conversions, 0-for-2 on fourth down conversions. They were 1-for-5 scoring in red zone.
The Colts offensive line is far from the league's best, and it had their issues with Rams' pass-rushing duo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long, starting with Quinn's sack/strip of Luck, and Long's subsequent touchdown return to open the scoring.
Colts owner Jim Irsay pays Pagano and Hamilton well to solve these issues, so they need to be solving them. Sometimes the obvious solution is the solution: Use Luck's arm, including his ability to throw on the run early and often.
This game, the second without Wayne, started like the Houston game, which the Colts trailed by 18 points at halftime. They came back and won that game. This time, they trailed 28-0 at the half. There was no comeback.
“We can't dig ourselves a hole hoping for another miracle, another comeback,” Pagano said. “We can't play football that way.”
Pagano looked as distressed, annoyed and chagrined in the postgame interview session as I've seen him in his short career.
Big wins over the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos aside, he's been dealt a tough hand this season with the losses of Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Thomas. Those are all offensive players. Trent Richardson has not been the boon to the offense that many expected; he's been Delone Carter.
The Colts are 6-3, but it feels like a fragile 6-3, one that could spin south in a hurry if they lose at Tennessee on Thursday. Here's the thing, though: The Titans are coming off their own unpleasant loss to the Jacksonville “One Win in the Books” Jaguars.
“It's a tough business,” Pagano said. “It's not for the meek, it's for grown men. Everybody in that locker room, coaches, players, have broad-enough shoulders to handle it. You sit there and dwell on it and dwell on it, we ain't got time to dwell on it. It is what it is, we got our butts kicked, we have to move on.”
The Colts' irritation subsided about a half hour after Sunday's game mercifully ended. There's another game dead ahead. That's how the NFL works.