In 2013, the Colts built a team that defeated three of the final four teams in the NFL playoffs and both Super Bowl teams, going 11-5 on the year. They fell in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in New England to the Patriots 43-22, as the Patriots rushed for 234 yards and six scores (averaging 5.1 yards per carry) while LeGarrette Blount picked up 166 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. So the Colts entered the offseason with this goal: build to beat the Patriots.
In 2014, the Colts went to the AFC Championship game, defeating the Bengals at home and the Broncos on the road. They went 11-5 on the year with a second straight AFC South title. They lost in the Championship game in New England to the Patriots 45-7, as the Patriots rushed for 177 yards and three scores (averaging 4.4 yards per carry) while LeGarrette Blount picked up 148 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. And the Colts enter the offseason with this goal: build to beat the Patriots.
Make no mistake, the Colts improved this season. The defense really didn't have any of those shockingly bad performances - they were good in the games you expected them to be good in and bad in the games you expected them to be bad in. Vontae Davis emerged as an elite cornerback, something he wasn't a year ago. Andrew Luck took more massive steps forward, as did the offense. Pep Hamilton embraced the passing offense and went away from trying to be a power run team. T.Y. Hilton continued to improve and emerge as a top threat. Coby Fleener stepped up his receiving game too. The offensive line, while not great, was better. And Ahmad Bradshaw for the first nine games and Boom Herron for the last several were positives from the running back position. Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee made up the best kicking duo in the NFL and headlined what was arguably the league's best special teams unit. And the Colts did all of this playing without Robert Mathis for the season. It's very clear that the Colts improved this season.
But it's also very clear that the Colts still have a lot of work to do. Some of the positions of need that we headlined last year are also positions of need this year - inside linebacker, safety, cornerback, defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver, and running back. Some of those positions are more of needs than others, but the Colts still have work to do. And the benchmark that the Colts have measured themselves against are the Patriots - a mark the Colts fall short of.
In the Colts' last four games against the Patriots, they have allowed 772 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. Get this - allowing 177 yards rushing on Sunday actually lowered the average rushing yards per game from the series, and the three rushing touchdowns lowered the average rushing scores per game average from the series. That's not good.
Remember all of that talk early in Peyton Manning's career about how the Colts couldn't get past the Patriots? Well, here's a fun fact for you: Manning's Colts and Broncos teams have lost two playoff games to the Patriots in sixteen years. Luck's Colts teams have lost two playoff games to the Patriots in three years. Now, granted, both playoff losses for Manning's Colts came in a two year span (2003 and 2004), but that's the same thing for Luck's Colts (2013 and 2014). And granted, Manning's Colts lost more than just those two playoff games to the Patriots, which added to the perception, but Luck's Colts are 0-4 against the Patriots overall. My point? The Patriots were the nemesis of the Colts early on in Peyton Manning's career, and the same can be said for the early stages of Andrew Luck's career.
Ryan Grigson is safe. Chuck Pagano is safe. But changes will be made, and they'll be made in an effort to achieve the same goal that the Colts had entering last offseason, which is beating the Patriots. The two teams will meet next regular season in Indianapolis and possibly in the playoffs. The Colts will have the chance next year to measure their progress once again against the AFC's best. Soon, Tom Brady will be gone from New England and things will change, but the Colts can't just wait for the Patriots to get worse - they have to get better.
The Colts will be back in a number of big games like the one they played in on Sunday and probably in a number of them bigger as long as Andrew Luck is at quarterback, and they've got a good foundation. But their nemesis is the Patriots, the only team to beat them multiple times through the first three years of Andrew Luck's career. The Colts took noticeable steps forward in 2014, but when they came up against the Patriots, they fell short once again. And that means that they enter this offseason with the same exact goal as the one they had last year.