INDIANAPOLIS –While 24 hours did not dull the pain of Sunday's playoff loss in Baltimore, it did nothing to dampen the regard Chuck Pagano held for how his team played in 2012 and how he feels it will play in 2013 and beyond.
"It was a very positive meeting," said Pagano of Monday's departure briefing. "There was still disappointment there. It is so hard getting to the place we got to and so hard to make the playoffs. The foundation has been laid. It's a solid foundation, and it's one we can build on. I'm really looking forward to the future. I feel we have a bright future ahead of us for many years to come."
Pagano was upbeat following the 24-9 setback. It was a harsh end to a season of accomplishment. The Colts went 11-5 with a vast array of new faces, doing so though Pagano was absent for 12 games while fighting leukemia and through health battles by players and even by Bruce Arians, who missed yesterday's game with an illness.
"From day one until the very last day, this team has overcome and dealt with adversity," said Pagano. "What they did on the field, what we asked them to do, they never batted a lash. We set our expectations very high. We set our goals high. We never were going to use the 'R' word (rebuilding). We talked about reloading, next man up, process."
Indianapolis competed with a handful of key veteran leaders, but predominantly with newer faces on the roster, including a slew of rookies. The club rebounded from 2-14 to 11-5, one of the NFL's best-ever turnarounds. A key veteran sees the Colts being anything but one-hit wonders.
"With the coaching staff and the new guys mixed with the vets, we have something special here," said Antoine Bethea. "I think next year will be even better."
Pagano arrived with expectations. Players were instructed to think big, and the message was to win now. They complied, and the reward now is a new normal, according to Pagano.
"We understand any time you make the turnaround we made and go 11-5, the bar now is set higher," said Pagano. "This is the time of year now to get away, relax, rest up, re-charge, get with families and come back to work ready to go.
"We have to raise the bar and expectations because we know now they're going to be much higher because of the success we had this year, which is fine. That's why we got into this business. That's why we coach, and that's why we play. (It) is to put ourselves in these types of situations. (It's) to get ourselves a chance to reach our ultimate goal, which is to win a world championship and multiple world championships.
Pagano said the coaches will take care of a few minor matters for a day or two, then will take a break. Players can use the facilities, but will not be under any form of instruction from the coaches until sometime in mid-April.
Pagano lauded the ethic of the players which today saw Andrew Luck talk about the need to improve parts of his game. Vick Ballard and Dwayne Allen also pinpointed areas on which they could improve.
Pagano said the dutifulness pointed to the "Colts traits" General Manager Ryan Grigson and his staff seek when they identify potential players.
"Our goals haven't changed," said Pagano. "We just know the expectations are going to be higher. (We) encouraged everyone to get away for a while but then find two or three things they could hone in on in the off-season to get better at."
ARIANS MENDING – Pagano said Arians went through a series of tests Sunday in Baltimore and should be back in Indianapolis soon, as soon as his blood pressure is under control. All tests on Arians were negative, and he is doing well. Pagano reiterated the club would not want to lose Arians should a head coaching opportunity transpire. Pagano said a by-product of winning is opportunity and the club would cross that bridge with Arians should it occur. He lauded Arians' abilities as a leader, motivator, handler of players and as a game technician.
COLTS 2013 OPPONENTS (2012 playoff team): HOME: Houston (12-4), Tennessee (6-10), Jacksonville (2-14), Denver (13-3), Oakland (4-12), St. Louis (7-8-1), Seattle (11-5) and Miami (7-9).* ROAD:* Houston (12-4), Tennessee (6-10), Jacksonville (2-14), Kansas City (2-14), San Diego (7-9), Arizona (5-11), San Francisco (11-4-1) and Cincinnati (10-6*).
COLTS SIGN FUTURE FREE AGENTS – The Colts have signed the following players to reserve/future free agent deals – OG-Justin Anderson, CB-Marshay Green, QB-Chandler Harnish, TE-Dominique Jones, LB-Shawn Loiseau, RB-Davin Meggett, LB-Monte Simmons.
NFL CALENDAR – The Colts may be finished playing in 2013, but the league calendar is in full swing. Indianapolis drafts 24th in the selection process that takes place on April 25-27. The Colts own picks in rounds one, three, four, six and seven. Indianapolis currently has no pick in the second and fifth rounds, sending those respective choices to Miami for Vontae Davis and San Francisco to move up last draft day to acquire T.Y. Hilton.
NFL IMPORTANT DATES
January 26, Senior Bowl, Mobile
January 27, Pro Bowl, Honolulu
February 3, Super Bowl XLVII, New Orleans
February 20-26, Combine Timing and Testing, Indianapolis
March 12, Clubs must be under salary cap and NFL League Year and Free Agency begins
April 25-27, NFL Draft