The Colts just lost a game 40-11. Two weeks ago they lost a game 38-8. In the last four weeks they've looked like one of the worst teams in football, save for two halves.
How do fans respond?
First, there's the backlash.
The popular response seems to be to call for the firing of head coach Chuck Pagano, which seems a little… extreme. Whether it's tweets, calls to radio shows or fan blogs, the amount of ire that Pagano has drawn over the last two days has been overwhelming. There's been some complaints about GM Ryan Grigson, but the coaching staff has gotten the vast majority of the criticism.
But after the backlash, or sometimes right alongside, comes the cry for perspective.
It's a reminder that this team is 7-4, something that every Colts fan would have been ecstatic about in the preseason. Despite all their flaws, the Colts have won, and should win the AFC South and make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Remember, this team has five offensive starters on injured reserve, which would make it hard on any offense to sustain success. Expecting the Colts to be able to just keep rolling on without their top interior linemen, two best running backs, number one tight end and All-Pro wide receiver is unfair.
Above all though, fans must remember that this is still a re-build from the 2-14 roster that plagued Indianapolis in 2011. The Colts made the playoffs last year and likely will this year. This kind of turn around is incredibly lucky, and fans need to remember that.
After all, we could be fans of any other team in the AFC South and suffer these kind of losses and issues regularly, without the hope of a franchise quarterback to rest on.
To some extent, everything I just typed in the last four paragraphs is true. (Well, except that last one. We could be fans of water polo too, but that has nothing to do with the way things are. If you play the "YOU COULD BE A FAN OF ANOTHER TEAM" card, I stop listening.)
The problem with the argument of "keeping perspective" is that it actually is more shortsighted than its defenders want to admit. For this season, the Colts making the playoffs at all will be a successful season, and fans shouldn't be upset about a playoff loss. We knew coming into the season that this team wasn't going to be an elite team, so for them to still make the playoffs despite all the hardship really is remarkable.
But that's not the issue. The issue is much, much bigger than this season.
The concerning thing about this season, or rather the entire Grigson/Pagano initiative (dating back to 2012), is the long-term effects that could come of the team's collective actions. Should Grigson and Pagano be fired because the Colts are 7-4 and might not make the AFC Championship? Of course not!
But the past four weeks, and this season as a whole, has been one big example of what myself, Nate Dunlevy, Greg Cowan and others have been afraid of since Grigson and Pagano were first hired, and Jim Irsay proudly declared his mission to build a "balanced" team.
This is the terrifying reality that has been hinted at, one that may not be true (we certainly don't want it to be), but the one that we are all dreading: the Colts have wasted an opportunity to build a dynasty with Andrew Luck.
Andrew Luck is a special player, the type of player that you can have unprecedented amounts of success with. The Colts gave up everything for him because they thought he could be another Peyton Manning, another quarterback that could lead them through 10+ more years of winning. Unfortunately, the Colts have gone about it all the wrong way, and the issues that we've been warning about for the last eight months have reared their heads in an ugly fashion over the last four weeks.
You think I'm exaggerating? Here's the list of ways the actions of Grigson and the coaching staff can and will have negative long-term effects. It's not a fun list.
We'll start with the most-obvious one: the Trent Richardson trade. The trade was philosophically bad from the beginning. The Colts weren't a running back away from being a championship team, the offensive line was the problem offensively, along with a lack of weapons on the outside. Adding another running back, no matter how good, was going to have a minimal impact.
Now you lose a first round pick, which could have been used to address one of the Colts' real needs in the 2014 draft (like an offensive lineman, wide receiver, or pass-rushing defensive lineman). Making everything worse is the fact that Richardson isn't good. The Colts have gotten nothing from him that they couldn't have gotten from a guy off the street, and I don't anticipate that they will. But don't be deceived: the trade was going to handcuff the Colts long-term either way.
Second, the Colts attacked free agency this past season completely wrong. They overpaid for mediocre players, like Greg Toler, LaRon Landry or Erik Walden, or paid elite money for good players. They didn't go after the elite players (the thought of Louis Vasquez makes me ill), even though they actually had the money for them.
They focused on the completely wrong characteristics of players, finding run-stoppers (Ricky Jean Francois, Aubrayo Franklin, Walden, Landry) instead of pass-rushers or good coverage defensive backs (more on this later). They overpaid for an injury-prone cornerback who isn't much better, if at all, than the injury-prone cornerback they already had (who was cheaper).
Third, the Colts 2014 draft, so far, has yielded negative results. Full disclosure: I hate judging a draft class this early. One year (well half a year) isn't enough to accurately judge a draft class. But, the evidence so far is damning. Bjoern Werner looks bad, while receivers like DeAndre Hopkins and Justin Hunter impress elsewhere. Hugh Thornton has been awful in the regular season, while Khaled Holmes sits on the bench. The Colts traded up for Montori Hughes, but he has played in one game. They cut all of their sixth/seventh-round picks.
Again, this is one area that really could turn out ok, but right now isn't trending that way.
Fourth, and this will overlap a bit with the first three, the actions taken by Grigson to fill the holes on the roster this offseason have been overwhelming failures. Darrius Heyward-Bey has been terrible, and the lack of weapons outside has been frighteningly clear. Any plan to fix the offensive line that involved leaving Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn as starters wasn't going to work. Adding Erik Walden wasn't going to fill the pass-rushing void.
But the most important long-term effect is the problems inherent with a "stop the run, run the ball" mentality. It's this stubborn philosophy by the coaches that has led to struggles this season, as the team is determined to "trust the process" even though they don't have the personnel to work the process.
It's an offensive philosophy that is built around a strong offensive line that can overpower a defense, something the Colts do not have anything even similar too (and won't in the future when Andrew Luck's contract balloons). It's an offensive philosophy that at best won't take full advantage of Luck's skills, and at worst will harm his development.
It's a defensive philosophy that's going to continue to result in inconsistent results at best. This defense has the players that Pagano wanted, he's had a year and a half to get his system in place, and they're a bottom-ten defense in the league. No injury excuses for the defense.
I could go on, I really could. But we've talked about these issues pretty much non-stop since March. None of these things are new or unexpected.
Sure, there are bright spots. There is a lot of hope for the future (most of it riding on Andrew Luck). But there is also a lot of concern, concern that isn't going anywhere.
So yes, enjoy the Colts being 7-4. Enjoy a playoff spot and a possible playoff run.
But don't fool yourself. There are long-term issues that aren't going away. Just because Andrew Luck is good enough to carry the Colts to wins doesn't mean that the team is being built well. The Colts can eke out a big win here and there, avoid losing streaks and pick up playoff spots, and fans will stay satisfied for a while. I mean, it's all about winning, and as long as the Colts are winning, everything is fine, right?
The Colts have a special opportunity with Andrew Luck. They can't afford to waste it. Unfortunately, he might be good enough to mask these issues just enough for Irsay to have an excuse to ignore them.
That's the danger of "perspective."