The Washington Times-Herald

January 8, 2013

With 2012 over, Colts move forward

Tom James
Tribune Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Moving on. That's the immediate plans for the Indianapolis Colts as they head into the off season.

Indianapolis saw the 2012 season come to an end with a 24-9 AFC wild-card playoff loss to Baltimore Sunday.

As disappointing as the outcome was, first-year head coach Chuck Pagano likes how far his team has come ever since he took over the reins of the franchise nearly a year ago.

Pagano took over a 2-14 team that didn't make the post-season. The Colts, though, end the year with an 11-6 overall mark and was the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs.

"I'm really, really proud of this football team, this coaching staff, this organization. Everybody involved with what this team was able to accomplish this year. We couldn't have done it without the support of everybody in this organization, from top to bottom. What they overcame from day one. All the turnover. All the change. They said that there was no way that certain things could be achieved," the Indianapolis coach said Monday during his end-of-season press conference. 

"From day one to the very last day, this team has overcome and dealt with adversity. What they've done on the football field, what we asked them to do. They never batted a lash. We set our expectations very high. We set our goals high. We were never were going to use the 'r' word [rebuilding]. We talked about re-loading. We talked about next man up. We talked about process. We talked about a lot of things. My hat's off to our veteran leadership. We certainly couldn't have accomplished what we accomplished this season without them. They did a tremendous job."

After a day of reflection, reviewing the loss to the Ravens, the Colts are now looking forward to the 2013 season.

"We understand that anytime you make the turnaround that we made and you go 11-5, that the bar has now got to be set even higher. We talked about this is the time of the year to now get away, relax, rest up, re-charge, get with your families. Reunite, so to speak, and then come back to work ready to go," Pagano said.

"We've got to raise the bar and we're going to raise the expectations because we know now that they're going to be, obviously, much higher because of the success that we had this year. Which is fine. That is why we got into this business. That is why we coach and that is why we play. And that is to put ourselves into these type of situations and to give ourselves a chance to reach our ultimate goal. Our goals haven't changed."

Now the question is whether the Colts can repeat or improve on it's 2012 successes.

"We just know that the expectations are going to be higher. We encouraged everybody to get away from it for awhile. But then find one or two things that you can really hone in on in the offseason to get better at. The foundation has been laid. It's a solid foundation and its one that we can build on. I am feel good about the future. I feel like we have a bright, bright future ahead of us for many years to come," the Indianapolis coach said.

Arians hospitalized, coming home -- Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was rushed to a Baltimore-area hospital a few hours before Sunday's game with the Ravens.

While doctors said that Arians is in no danger and that his medical condition is not a serious one, he was not allowed to coach or to be at the game and was kept under observation overnight. He was due to return to Indianapolis via team owner Jim Irsay's private plane sometime Monday evening.

"Every test that they ran on Bruce, and obviously they put him through a battery of tests A to Z as they would do to any of us, all have been negative. He is doing well. Whatever he is dealing with, they would have let him come home early [Monday] morning but whatever he is dealing with has affected his blood pressure. And they [weren't] going to release him until they kind of get the blood pressure under control," Pagano said.

As for the chances of losing Arians to another National Football League team as a head coaching candidate, Indianapolis officials are going to try and keep him on the coaching staff. However, they know that it won't be easy.

"We do not want to lose Bruce Arians. We do not want to lose Bruce. He is so valuable to this organization and what he means to this organization and what he’s done. You want the best for Bruce. I want the best for Bruce," the Colts coach said.

"I want the best for his family. I want him to achieve and reach any goals that he has for himself throughout his coaching years, things like that. It’s a hard spot but again we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Again, people are going to go after good people and this is just a byproduct of the success that we’ve had here.”

Pagano was asked about rookie quarterback Andrew Luck's comments, said jokingly, that if another team contacted him for a recommendation on Arians, he would say terrible things.

“We talked about that, last time putting the [halt] on him, put the kibosh on him. We won’t get into those right now. We will just use social media. We will get on the Internet. Just like they do around draft time with all the players, all the baggage starts to come out. We won’t do it here. We will just wait until later this evening, the next couple of weeks and start putting all that stuff out if it get serious," the coach laughed.

Season review -- The Indianapolis Colts surprised everyone, including themselves if truth be told, by posting an 11-5 regular-season record and earning the fifth-seed in the AFC playoffs.

Yes, Indianapolis ended the year on a down note, but the immediate future looks exceedingly bright for the franchise.

Coming off a dismal 2-14 season a year ago and with last season's massive roster moves (there were 36 new players when the 2012 season began) along with a new head coach (Pagano), pretty much a new coaching staff (there was only one holdover from the previous year), and a new general manager (Ryan Grigson), most observers had figured on a five or six-win season for the Colts.

The 2012 rookie class --led by Luck, running back Vick Ballard, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener -- quickly bought in to what Grigson and Pagano were trying to accomplish. And they produced big numbers.

It all started with Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, who shattered the NFL's single-season rookie passing mark. He threw for 4,374 yards along with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Indianapolis did not lose consecutive games all season and had winning streaks of four and three games.

The Colts were 9-1 in one-possession games. And when it counted the most, at the end of the regular-season, Indy won five of its last six games heading into the playoffs.

Looking ahead to the 2013 season, Grigson and Pagano have an outstanding rookie class which has a chance to improve with more game experience. Also, veteran leadership from players such as wide receiver Reggie Wayne, outside linebacker Robert Mathis, free safety Antoine Bethea, place kicker Adam Vinatieri and defensive end Cory Redding.

There are also questions. Will outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, cornerback Jerraud Powers, punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee and wide receiver Austin Collie, among others, be back? Powers and Collie both ended the 2012 season on Indianapolis' injured reserve list.

And throw in the fact that the Colts will have a lot of salary cap space (approximately $43 million) in which to work with and be used to possibly entice some new players to join the tea, in some key spots.

The good -- Growing up fast. Due in large measure to injuries to key veterans, Indianapolis was forced out of necessity to use many rookies and first-year players in key roles. Also, the way the team bonded quickly after head coach Chuck Pagano was forced to miss 12 games as he underwent treatment for a form of leukemia was impressive. Arians is a prime candidate for the NFL's "Coach of the Year" honors for the job he did in Pagano's absence.

The bad -- Too many injuries. The Colts went into the post-season with 13 players listed on the team's injured reserve list. Of that 13, four were projected to be starters when the regular-season began (running back Donald Brown, Collie, defensive tackle Fili Moala and Powers). Highly-regarded nose tackles Josh Chapman (a 2012 fifth-round draft pick) and Brandon McKinney were also on the injured list, along with offensive guard Ben Ijalana

Post-playoff game notes -- With his totals against Baltimore, Luck compiled the second most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in a playoff game (288), set an NFL record for passing attempts (54) by a rookie quarterback in a single postseason game.He also set a franchise record for passing attempts by a quarterback in a postseason game.

Wayne caught nine passes for 114 yards against the Ravens. With nine receptions, he has now totaled 92 in his postseason career, which ranks second all-time to Jerry Rice (151). With his 114 yards, Wayne has also upped his career postseason total to 1,242, which now ranks fourth in NFL history. Wayne’s postseason reception and receiving yardage totals are also Colts franchise highs.

He topped the 100-yard receiving plateau for the third time in his postseason career, which is tied with Dallas Clark for the most postseason 100-yard games in Colts history. Wayne also moved into a tie with Justin Snow for the third-most postseason games played in team history, now with 18.

Ballard led the team in rushing with 22 carries for 91 yards in the playoff loss to Baltimore.

It was the ninth most rushing yards by a Colts running back in a single postseason game and the most since Dominic Rhodes totaled 113 against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI (2/4/07).

Mathis had a sack against the Ravens.He has six sacks in nine career games against Baltimore (including the postseason) and improved his career postseason total to 4.5. Mathisalso moved into a tie for sixth place in franchise history for the most postseason games played (16).

Freeney, meanwhile,moved into fifth place in franchise history for most postseason games played with 17.

Vinatieri is now 22-of-24 in field goal attempts in the postseason as a member of the Colts. He is 26-of-34 in his time with the New England Patriots. With nine points against the Ravens, Vinatieri improved his current NFL postseason record to 192 points.

He has now converted 4-of-5 field goals from 50-plus yards in the postseason. His four field goals from 50-plus yards mark a new NFL postseason record. The 52-yard kick was also Vinatieri’s longest of his postseason career.