The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans 30-24 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
Chud and Clyde deserve credit
We all know the story by now: the Colts' quarterback situation was a mess, they signed Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley on Tuesday, and on Sunday Freeman and Lindley combined to help the Colts' win. Between Freeman and Lindley, the Colts' quarterbacks completed 21 of 38 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a passer rating of 76.6. Both players have experience in the NFL, but Freeman hadn't played a meaningful NFL game or thrown a single pass in a meaningful game in two years, while Lindley hadn't played at al this season. Head coach Chuck Pagano talked all week about how he was confident that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen would have the quarterbacks ready to go, and it turns out that he was right. It wasn't a perfect performance by any means, but considering the circumstances, it was more than good enough and the offense far exceeded expectations. They started Josh Freeman and had Ryan Lindley take over in the two-minute situation (that's what the plan was entering the game, too). Both of those players deserve credit for their performance, but so do Chudzinski and Christensen. They brought in two guys who were completely new to the playbook and installed enough to make it a successful day both for the quarterbacks and for the offense.
Some difficult decisions upcoming
The story of the day on Sunday was the pending change, as we all know that Chuck Pagano is almost certainly gone, making for an emotional scene on Sunday. There is likely a lot of change coming to the franchise this offseason, however, and not just at the head coaching position. Some of the players who might have been playing in their final game as a Colt stepped up in a notable way on Sunday. Jerrell Freeman, the team's starting inside linebacker for the past four years who is due to become an unrestricted free agent, recorded eight tackles, two sacks, and a pick-six, proving to be one of the stars of the day and making a strong emphasis in a "pay me" game. Tight end Coby Fleener, who likewise is set to become a free agent, caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose contract will expire this offseason, drilled three field goals (from 49, 52, and 35 yards) to extend his streak to 25 made field goals in a row. Safety Dwight Lowery came up with a couple of nice pressures. Cornerback Greg Toler broke up the pass on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to seal the Colts' win. In other words, the Colts will have some decisions to make regarding who to bring back, and those decisions also will extend to whether to cut players currently under contract for 2016. Some of the players listed here could be back next year, while others might not be. But with the Colts eliminated from the playoffs the focus turns to the offseason, and several players who will become free agents had solid games on Sunday.
Chuck Pagano, Colts fall victim to curse of expectations
The season is now over, which gives us time to reflect on the 2015 season as a whole. The Colts finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in the Chuck Pagano era, but they did so while playing without Andrew Luck for nine games. For most teams, an 8-8 record while playing over half of the season without your franchise quarterback is more than enough reason for a mulligan. Very few coaches would be fired under those circumstances, but Chuck Pagano will almost certainly be a part of that small minority who would be. Simply put, Pagano and the Colts fell victim to the curse of expectations. Even coming into this season, there was some doubt as to whether Pagano could be the guy to lead the Colts to a Super Bowl. That's why Jim Irsay only offered Pagano a small one-year contract extension - he wasn't sold on Pagano as his team's head coach. And the issues between Pagano and Ryan Grigson have been going on for quite a while, which further put Pagano's status in doubt long before this season's debacle. So it wasn't just an 8-8 season that got Pagano fired - understand there were questions well before that - but either way, the expectations were huge. Jim Irsay wants to win multiple Super Bowls with Andrew Luck at quarterback. He expects championships. And the big question that needs to be asked is whether the Colts are getting closer to that ultimate goal, which the answer to is no. Not after a .500 season in which they lost the worst division in football. Just because Luck wasn't playing for nine games doesn't mean that Pagano gets a mulligan, because again, the expectations have been there and it's almost impossible to make the case that this team got closer to their goal of reaching the Super Bowl this year. In many ways, then, you can say that Chuck Pagano and the 2015 Colts simply fell victim to the curse of expectations. Normally, an 8-8 season without your franchise quarterback is a noteworthy accomplishment. For this year's Colts, though, it felt like an utter disaster (in large part because of how ugly it looked on the field).