INDIANAPOLIS – When the Colts dropped a 19-9 decision on Monday Night Football at San Diego four games ago, to a man they were glad the next challenge awaited six days later against 6-0 Denver.
Indianapolis responded with a 39-33 victory that snuffed out a losing streak at one game.
Sunday's 38-8 setback to the Rams was more sobering than the San Diego loss and was by nearly as wide a margin as the Colts incurred last year at New England in a 59-24 defeat.
In that game, the Colts had a minus-four turnover ratio (one of three such performances in an 11-5 year) and suffered three long TDs in the process. The Patriots had a 68-yard scoring punt return and TD interception returns of 59 and 87 yards.
Indianapolis came back to take a 20-13 home victory over Buffalo, followed by two successive wins after that.
There is no sugarcoating a performance of the nature the Colts had Sunday, and no one tried to do so.
"Obviously, I didn't have them ready to play," said Pagano. "They played better in every phase. It's a tough business, not for the meek. It's for grown men. We got broad enough shoulders to handle it. We got our butts kicked and we got to move on."
Cory Redding was one of the pillar players Pagano infused last year to both achieve successes and sustain the challenges of a 16-game season. Redding feels the loss is a time of reflection and resolve.
"Our mental toughness has not wavered. They were the better team," said Redding. "The biggest thing is to look yourself in the mirror and ask, 'Did I do everything I could to help my teammate?'
"All of us can look ourselves in the mirror and say, 'No, I didn't do my best job.' It was all three phases. We gave up big plays. We gave up turnovers. We didn't get the job done. They put it to us."
The Rams had touchdowns of 45, 98, 57 and 81 yards and kept Indianapolis bottled up with field position woes. The Colts did not start a drive outside its 35 until the Rams had scored all their points, and eight of the first 10 Indianapolis drives started at or inside the 20-yard line.
One of the NFL's most efficient red zone teams failed to score on four trips deep into St. Louis territory. The Colts had ranked 11th in red zone touchdown percentage (60 percent) prior to the game and now have fallen to a tie for 17th-place in the category.
Before Sunday, the Colts were the only team with a perfect red zone scoring percentage (25-for-25).
The way the Colts responded from a five-turnover, 20-point loss at Chicago last year with a comeback win over Minnesota gave an early peek at the "process" Pagano was instilling.
A four-turnover, 26-point loss at the Jets four games later spawned a four-game winning streak leading to that New England game.
Indianapolis righted itself after the Chargers loss this year with two key wins. In rough moments, good teams respond by focusing on techniques and fundamentals that lead to winning. They eliminate mistakes and aim for 60-minute execution.
Pagano cited the need for that and guaranteed his team's competitive fight is intact. Redding echoes his leader.
"That (loss) doesn't kill the fight in our team. That doesn't beat down our mentality," said Redding. "The best thing about this loss is we get to go back and play on Thursday Night Football, get this taste out of our mouth, a quick trip to Tennessee for a divisional game and get back on track."
T.Y. Hilton had a ninth career 100-yard game and was a bright spot with seven receptions that led to his 130 yards.
The number that matters to him is seven, meaning a seventh win. It did not happen Sunday, leaving it the chief goal for Thursday.
"It (the turnovers that included four interceptions) was very frustrating, but we know we are better than that," said Hilton in a quiet Colts locker room. "We just have to sleep on this tonight. There will be less sleep and a lot of film working. We just got to get better."