INDIANAPOLIS – If Sunday was truly a “meaningless” game, you couldn’t tell by watching the reactions of the Colts following Jack Doyle’s game-winning touchdown reception.
From Andrew Luck’s dead sprint down the sidelines, to Doyle’s spike from his butt and an emotional Robert Mathis bringing his kids down to the field for dad’s last game---this one meant something to the Colts.
The playoffs were already lost.
But the chance to win a football game was there for the Colts,
It took some time on Sunday and, after a lethargic first half, Chuck Pagano’s team finally got it together.
“That was the last opportunity that we had and they took full advantage of it,” Pagano said of the Colts’ 24-20 victory in the season finale.
“I can’t be more proud of those players and those coaches for sticking together and fighting this thing out. It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride as everybody knows. What a great start to 2017.”
For much of Sunday, it didn’t look like the Colts would go out on a high note in ending this season.
One of the league’s worst offenses carved up the Colts for 450 total yards and took a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
The “horrendous” start, as Andrew Luck described, to 2017 for the Colts finally saw them wake up and respond with 17 points of their own in the second and third quarters.
Sunday’s fourth quarter had plenty of drama for two teams already eliminated from the playoffs.
With the score tied at 17, both Blake Bortles and Luck lost fumbles on drives hovering around the red zone.
Jacksonville kicker Jason Myers then missed a 54-yard field goal with 3:30 remaining, giving the Colts an extra life.
Myers redeemed himself a few minutes later. Thanks to a punt block from linebacker Dan Skuta, the Jaguars re-took the lead on a 41-yard field goal from Myers with 1:38 to go.
Down 23-20, the Colts were without timeouts and needed to move the ball quickly on a defense that had been rather stingy all afternoon.
But Luck was terrific with the game on the line. Excluding spikes, Luck was 6-of-6 for 70 yards on the game’s final touchdown drive.
It was the dependable Jack Doyle carving out space in the end zone to cap the 18th game-winning career touchdown drive led by Luck.
“I tried to find an open area there and if you find an open area, Andrew will find you,” Doyle said of his game-winning score with 14 seconds remaining.
“We motioned out to an empty backfield and (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski) did a great job on going over their red-zone stuff and we knew they were going to drop into a zone and see the holes that are there. Just tried to find one and it worked out and Andrew found me.”
The Doyle touchdown capped an eerie day inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
For just the second season since 2001, the Colts were playing a game already knowing their playoff fate was already decided.
On New Year’s Day they honored one of the greatest personnel men in NFL history (Bill Polian’s induction into the Colts Ring of Honor) and saw one of the league’s finest pass rushers cap his career (fittingly, Mathis did have one more strip/sack in the last game of his career), their franchise quarterback wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the Week 17 victory.
“I have no idea,” Luck said after the Colts finished 8-8 for a second straight year. “I know it feels great to win as a culture, in the locker room and in the building.
“I know when I came in it was a winning culture, it really was. The horseshoe is a winning culture and it’s all about winning at the end of the day. It’s very clear every time you talk to Mr. (Jim) Irsay or anybody in the building. So as a player, you feel like a steward of that culture. You want to make sure it’s a winning culture, so maybe to set 2017 off the right way with a win, maybe that’s what it is.”
Photos from the final game of the 2016 season. Robert Mathis played his final game as an Indianapolis Colt.