INDIANAPOLIS – The 29th season of Colts football in Indianapolis was also the 29th year of coaching for Chuck Pagano.
What Pagano was able to build in 2012, though missing 12 games while fighting illness, was an extraordinarily close-knit team that battled with its utmost ability.
That fight ended in Baltimore on Sunday in a 24-9 loss to the Ravens, a feeling that left distinct hurt in Pat Angerer.
"It's the worst. It (stinks) bad," said Angerer of losing in the first round of the playoffs like he did with the Colts as a rookie in 2010. "Not once during the game today did I think we were going to lose. I don't think anybody thought that.
"We kept fighting back. We didn't win, and it will be a tough off-season. I am proud of the fight, and our character. We just have to make the plays next time."
The Colts were not able to get the lead once on Sunday. While the offense did not produce touchdowns on three trips in the red zone, the defense yielded eight plays exceeding 20 yards, including four that bit off at least 43 yards.
Indianapolis fought just as gamely as it had all season, but it could not make the plays like it had in a regular season that produced 11 victories.
"That's it, they made the plays when they needed to and we didn't," said Angerer. "They played hard and we played hard, too, but they capitalized on our mistakes.
"It hurts. We'll keep our head up, but it's hard. When you lose, it hurts real bad. We'll get up, keep swinging, and we'll be a better team."
Indianapolis was facing a Baltimore team that is seasoned in playoff success. Angerer was one of 25 Colts who had appeared in the playoffs before, but he did not believe the club's post-season inexperience played a role in the outcome.
"I don't think that had an impact at all. I think our young guys played great," said Angerer. "We fought and played tough. I don't think being young had anything to do with it. They just played better."
Though limited by to three starts and 11 appearances in a physically frustrating season, Angerer found this a special group with which to be associated.
"It's Coach Pagano. He came in and brought us together. We quickly became a team," said Angerer. "Over time with him going through (the illness), the ups and downs, we became a family.
"What I'll remember about this year is it's the closest group of guys I've ever been around. It's the most I've felt like a family in my three years with the Colts. We stuck together. I love these guys. Hopefully, we'll get back. We'll heal up, get healthy and fight another day."
Pagano is a battler, too. Though he failed to win his first playoff game as a head coach, he saw the big picture of what happened in a memorable year number 29.
"(I'm) very, very proud of this football team, what they've overcome, what they've accomplished," said Pagano of a team that made the post-season after being tabbed at the outset of the year as afterthoughts. "They went out and did it, what everybody said they couldn't do, and they refused to live in circumstance. They chose to live in vision.
"We didn't play our best game, and we didn't do enough out there today. To accomplish what they accomplished, I told them, 'When you walk out of here, you hold your head high and be very, very proud of how you played this game, how you've represented this organization.' We talk about legacy a lot and trust, loyalty and respect and things like that. They did that. They should be very, very proud of themselves, how they carried themselves and how they represented the 'shoe.' "