INDIANAPOLIS – The win was rather remarkable, considering the circumstances.
In the end though, it's the last such feeling the Colts will have in a 2015 season that started with expectations the franchise hasn't felt in quite some time.
Playing two quarterbacks signed not even a week prior, the Colts took a 20-14 lead into halftime in Sunday's regular season finale against the Titans and held on in the second half to finish their season at 8-8.
The season officially came to an end late on Sunday afternoon when the Houston Texans clinched the AFC South with a 30-6 win over the Jaguars.
"Phenomenal job by these coaches and players," Pagano said after the Colts evened their record at 8-8.
"We fell short of our ultimate goal and that will never change. We have one goal and everyone knows what that is, but like I told the players and coaches I've never been more proud of a group of men than this group."
Following Sunday's 30-24 victory, Pagano didn't want to talk about his future (he will meet with Jim Irsay on Monday to discuss that).
Instead, the Colts head coach, who received a game ball from Robert Mathis afterwards, wanted to acknowledge the work that went into a regular season finale victory.
In a season that took just about every twist imaginable, the Colts final abrupt turn came early last week when they had to sign quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley.
Not only were the two quarterbacks, who hadn't been on any NFL roster this season, coming to Indy on short notice, they were going to play on Sunday.
Colts coaches devised a plan to have Freeman (signed on Monday) take the bulk of the game plan. Lindley would handle two-minute situations.
"That was the plan going in, trying to, I guess, limit the workload for each of us," Freeman said after his first NFL action since 2013.
"We had different sections of the game that we were responsible for."
The plan worked rather effectively.
Freeman and Lindley combined to go 21-of-38 for 207 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (off Boom Herron's hands).
Each signal caller led the offense on a touchdown drive and helped the Colts score their second most points of the season.
"I don't know if this has ever happened before in the history of the National Football League, where you bring in two guys off the street and you got basically three days to prepare these guys and we won a football game with them," Pagano said after the 30-24 win.
Photos from the final game of the 2015 regular season.
All week, coaches and players were asked how watered down the Colts playbook was going to have to be with such uncertainty under center.
Instead, the offense was filled with early innovation via Wildcat looks, involving first-round pick Phillip Dorsett in multiple ways, and jumbo-run looks that fooled the Titans and sprung Coby Fleener down the middle of the field for a 57-yard touchdown.
A late-half touchdown drive that ended with Andre Johnson's one-arm reach over the pylon carried over to the start of the third quarter.
On a second-and-15 to start the third, a blitzing Dwight Lowery deflected an Alex Tanney pass. Jerrell Freeman, who was a madman on the field Sunday with eight tackles and two sacks, hauled in the batted ball and took it 33 yards into the end zone.
The Colts lead was 27-14 and they would hold on for their eighth victory of the season.
Inside the Colts locker room afterwards, it was cleanup time.
There will be no meaningful football for this team in January for just the third time in the last 17 years.
The first Monday in January will be locker room clean out day on West 56th Street, something that doesn't usually happen this early in the month for the Colts.
"I've been blessed and spoiled being around here for 13 years," said Robert Mathis, "and it's only my second time missing the playoffs.
"You can't sneeze at that and you take pride in that, but also and know there's a level of expectation and we didn't meet that."