INDIANAPOLIS –Handling a defeat in a league where defeats happen is one measure of a successful team.
The Colts have responded before to setbacks, each time previously this year by producing a win to even their record at .500.
Now, Indianapolis has lost decisively at New England. It was a disappointing 59-24 outcome that ended a four-game winning streak.
While Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians will urge the team to dust itself off after tape review today, he wants players to remember the feeling after Sunday's setback.
"You better remember it. You better (darn) remember it, because you hope to be back here and you don't want to forget it," said Arians because at 6-4, the club remains quite viable in the post-season picture. "You don't throw things away in this business. We won't burn (this tape) and go to the next one. We will watch it and learn from it, each guy individually and us collectively as a coaching staff."
While Sunday at New England was a lost opportunity against one of the league's better teams, opportunity is not lost. The Colts still remain as one of six AFC teams with at least six victories. There are five teams with four wins, and Cincinnati was the lone AFC team this past week to get to five wins. The Bengals, 5-5, remain one game behind the Colts and Pittsburgh in the Wild Card hunt.
More pressing for the Colts is this Sunday and Buffalo. The Bills are 4-6 and are coming off a 19-14 victory last Thursday over Miami. They will be reaching Indianapolis with a potent offense and on a couple of extra days rest.
Indianapolis needs to focus on its own matters. Remembering what led to the loss at New England is paramount, as is the need to flush it and move on. It is a balanced approach.
"We have to use every opportunity to get better, especially with a young team like this," said tackle Winston Justice. "We can't turn the ball over. We can't let them score on defense and special teams like they did. I think this is a young team, and we have to use every opportunity to get better."
Indianapolis surrendered 21 points on returns, two by interceptions and one on a punt return. Another fumble led to a New England touchdown, and those plays impacted what had been a close game to that point.
"This was one of those games that if you don't play well and you have a lot of mistakes or things that go the wrong way, any team in this league can embarrass you at any given time," said Adam Vinatieri, who has been on both ends of such games in his 17 years. "We just need to play a little bit better all the way around. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We just have to play better."
There is recent history on which to draw in overcoming a tough loss in a playoff run. The Colts took a 44-17 pounding in Jacksonville in December of 2006. The Jaguars rushed for 375 yards in the demoralizing loss. Two weeks later, 4-10 Houston knocked off the 11-3 Colts, and Indianapolis entered the playoffs having dropped three of its last five games.
What happened? A four-game playoff run led to a Super Bowl title.
While any thoughts beyond this Sunday are not appropriate, there are five players on the roster who were a part of that 2006 run. Vinatieri is one of them, as is linebacker Robert Mathis. Mathis described to media attending the game how the team will use this moment to move forward.
"Without failure, there's no growth," said Mathis. "This showed us we still have a lot of work to do. We've got to let (the young guys) know we've been here before. We've got to bounce back and understand we can't give anything away."
Indianapolis scored touchdowns on its first two drives. Two New England touchdowns in a 61-second span in the second quarter tilted the field. Fourteen unanswered New England points in the third quarter left Indianapolis with a deficit too large from which to recover.
Still, there are positives. The early execution was fine by a young offense.
"We put drives together. We had a pretty solid third-down conversion rate in the game," said Arians. "Once it got out of hand because of the turnovers, not only turnovers but touchdowns off turnovers, we just had to keep fighting. We got ourselves in a one-dimensional game where we didn't want to be.
"I thought our guys fought the entire time. That's all you can ask of them is to keep swinging. We'll get better."
Head Coach Chuck Pagano and Arians both have urged players to fight for 60 minutes while playing full speed. The fight throughout the game was an indicator of character, and one of the biggest battlers, Pat Angerer, is not ready to put down the fight.
"This loss doesn't define us. It doesn't define the people in the organization," said Angerer. "It doesn't define who we are as players or coaches. All we can do is get better, learn from it and try to be the team we know we are."