The Colts players packed up their lockers yesterday. They said their goodbyes – many with uncertain futures – and reflected on the season they’ve spent together and all the work that went into it.
“It’s the very strange thing about professional athletes,” punter Pat McAfee, who’s contract is up, said yesterday. “Whenever the season is over, you have no idea when you’ll see any of your teammates ever again. It’s always disappointing. It’s kind of like the last day of school but with the last day of school, you probably have another year coming up.
“This, you don’t know if you have another year. You don’t know if guys have another year. You don’t know who is going to retire. You don’t know where anybody is going. It’s always disappointing. But in the NFL, only one team gets to celebrate at the end of the year, and it wasn’t us obviously this year. You just kind of have to deal with it.”
On the bright side, as usual, several injured players are hoping to be ready to go for next year, including Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, and Reggie Wayne. “Medically, I’ll be cleared sometime the end of February,” Allen said, “but whether they allow me to participate in the OTAs, that’s up to management.”
Ballard expects to be ready later, but not by much. “I’ll be ready for training camp,” he said. “Right now they got me doing a little low-impact training, sometimes a little treadmill work. So I’m getting a little better every day.”
Wayne didn’t give a specific time, just that he should be ready when everyone goes back to work. “I haven’t even looked that far,” he said yesterday. “I’m really just taking it one day at a time. Right now, everything’s going pretty well. As long as we don’t have no setbacks, it should be when everybody else is grinding I should be out there grinding with them.”
It’s certainly no surprise that the guys on IR look forward to getting back on the field. Here’s hoping their rehabilitation goes well, and they don’t have any setbacks.
Accountability and Team Culture
For a 12-6 season, this year’s Colts team looked shaky at times. They beat great teams, and then lost to average ones. They tried to run to set up the pass, but they could only run when the passing game was already working well. The defense struggled to stop the run and varied wildly between extremes, giving up a one score game one week and 30-40+ points in another.
When asked if he had any regrets, Chuck Pagano said he had none about the 2013 season, which makes sense given their record, but he was also quick to say that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking to improve.
“There’s always things that you can do better,” he said. “Certainly I’ll take a hard look at myself. I always start with myself. I always look myself in the mirror and find out what I can do better. There’s a bunch.
“Again, the minute you start to think you have all the answers and you know everything and you stop growing, that’s when you’re done. I’ll continue to dissect myself along with everything else and make sure we can make the next step next year.”
One area he may be looking for improvement is play calling in critical situations. During the Divisional loss to New England, Pagano called a time out in the final minute of the second quarter to help get an extra possession.
The defense forced a punt, and the Colts, down nine with the Patriots getting the ball back at the half, had possession at their own 16 with 37 seconds remaining. It wasn’t good field position, but there was enough time to run a couple plays and see what happened. Rather than attempt to move into field goal range, the Colts ran out the clock.
Some people could make a strong argument in favor of the move (I’m not one of them), but the next example is a bit more clear-cut.
4th quarter, 11 minutes remaining and the refs seemingly trying to kill every drive. Luck faced 2nd and 1, passed to Griff Whalen, who was essentially tackled by a Patriots DB before he could make the catch. No flag. 3rd and 1, Luck tries to find LaVon Brazill who can’t hang on. Many fans wanted a flag there too, but it wasn’t coming with the way they were calling the game.
4th and 1 from their own 29, down three scores, 10:30 left in a do-or-die playoff game, one yard from continuing the drive and keeping their slim hopes alive. Nothing to lose, right? In came the punt unit, and the game was officially over. That punt caught the media’s attention as well as the fans’. “I should have went for it,” Pagano said. “That’s on me.”
Chuck Pagano goes out of his way to make sure he doesn’t bury his players in public for their mistakes on the field. He’ll bring up their strengths and what they did well, as he did when asked about Luck’s interceptions, or talk of patience and say clichés about working hard, as he has with players who have struggled this season.
Pagano will not throw his players under the bus. He keeps the accountability and admonishment behind closed doors and in doing so, shows his team that he has their back. But generally when things go wrong from his end, at least from a non-football philosophy standpoint, he stands up there and owns it.
Not everyone will agree with everything Pagano believes, but standing up for his players while not shifting the blame away from himself for a specific mistake is exactly what an NFL coach should be doing, and it’s reflected in his players.
There was no finger pointing after the loss on Saturday. In fact, when someone asked Coby Fleener about Luck’s recent turnovers, he was quick to defend his quarterback, saying his group (the receivers and tight ends) need to work on their route running.
“First of all, statistics don’t tell the whole story,” Fleener said. “If a receiver or a tight end breaks off a route, the quarterback gets credited with the interception and the receiver just gets scolded on the sideline. I don’t think you can put this all on Andrew. There is a lot of improvement that needs to happen all across the board.”
When a reporter asked T.Y Hilton about his own performance right after their 43-22 loss, Hilton said, “I don’t care if I get one catch for two yards as long as we win. I was able to get open and make a couple of plays and that’s what I am here for, to make plays and help Andrew and the team out.”
The players tend to reflect their coach, and in the NFL, a selfless, buck-stops-here, team-first attitude is important. Looking at the player comments from earlier this week, it looks as though Pagano, regardless of how anyone feels about his philosophy, has instilled that in his team. Now, about that power running game…
Leftover Quotes: The Free Agents
The Colts have 23 contracts set to expire this spring, including seven players who would be restricted or exclusive rights free agents. Among the highest profile potential free agents to be are S Antoine Bethea, K Adam Vinatieri, P/K/local talk show host Pat McAfee, RB’s Donald Brown, and Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, CB Vontae Davis, ILB Pat Angerer, safety and special teams ace Sergio Brown, and G Mike McGlynn.
Say what you like about whom you do or don’t want to see coming back (seriously, do that, we have a very user-friendly comment section), but everyone who talked to the reporters yesterday sounded like someone who wants to stay. Part of that is just a bunch guys saying the right thing, but part of it is about a desire to continue playing for a winning organization.
Pat McAfee: “Yeah, Indianapolis has become my home. I think everybody in the world knows that. I love this city. Whenever I was down, this city took me in. I hope to be a Hoosier forever. But business is the way business is though. I completely understand that. I found that out last offseason. We’ll see how it all works out. But I hope to live in Indianapolis for the rest of my life.”
Adam Vinatieri: “Oh, for sure. I’m still enjoying it. I feel like I can still do it at a high enough level. And I’d like to be here if the cards fall right. Obviously this locker room’s awesome. I’ve got a lot of friends in this locker room and I’ve got the most admiration for the ownership here and coaches and staff and everything. So if it’s up to me, I’d love to be here.”
Donald Brown: “Yeah, no doubt about it. I want to stay here. But we’ll see how it works out.” As for how he handled this season with impending free agency, Brown said, “this past season was almost like an interviewing process and now you’re just waiting to see what job offers you get. Then just take the one that makes the most sense for myself and my family.”
Antoine Bethea: “You got to clean out your locker. Obviously, this week we wanted to be preparing to play another game, but hey, it is what it is. Free agency is here. It’s my first time really testing the market, so kind of excited. Want to finish my career here, but if not, hey, got to go on and start a new chapter in my career.”
Darrius Heyward-Bey: “Who knows? That’s up to the people upstairs. I hope so. I had a great time here. It’s a great team. Great coaches.”
Pat Angerer was very direct: “I want to play here. It’s a great place. My son was born here. I got a house here. I love it here. I had some work done on my knee. Just take it slow and let it heal and get better.”
Difficult decisions are coming, and the players’ comments are certainly open for interpretation. Some sounded like there’s a chance of coming back, while others sounded as though the writing is on the wall, and still others are determined, in spite of any signs to the contrary, to stay in Indy (or Brownsburg, as is the case for several Colts players). It will be interesting to see who all comes back for the 2014 season.