INDIANAPOLIS – A season that suspended belief on more than one occasion ended on a tough note as the Colts fell in the Wild Card Playoffs in Baltimore, 24-9.
Playing with heart and Chuck Pagano, the Colts competed without Bruce Arians against a playoff-tested Baltimore bunch. The club acquitted itself well, but yielded too many plays in the end in falling on the road.
"We had our opportunities," said Pagano to Colts Radio. "We didn't capitalize and they capitalized on their opportunities."
With Arians admitted to a Baltimore-area hospital on Sunday morning with an illness, quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen filled in in the role he had for Indianapolis over the last two seasons.
The transition was smooth enough, but the Colts never were able to take the lead nor find the end zone.
Baltimore took a 3-0 second-quarter lead the Colts matched but when 10 points were produced in the final minute of the first half, it was the Ravens punching in a touchdown as the score stood 10-6 at intermission.
A succession of big plays by the Ravens over the final 30 minutes spelled the difference. Baltimore gained 253 of its 441 net yards in the last half, with 198 yards and two touchdowns coming off six plays.
Quarterback Joe Flacco had completions of 50, 46, 21 and 18 yards to Anquan Boldin in the second half. Boldin, who caught five passes for 145 yards, scored on the 18-yarder with 9:14 left to provide Baltimore with its 15-point cushion.
Baltimore had eight plays exceeding 20 yards, four of which topped 40 yards, including a 43-yard run by back-up running back Bernard Pierce late in the game and a 47-yard reception by Ray Rice to set up the game's first touchdown.
The Colts snapped a franchise playoff-record 87 plays offensively and gained 419 net yards, but failed to score a touchdown on three red zone visits.
The club's scoring against a Baltimore team that now stands as the NFL's only franchise to win playoff games in five successive seasons came on Adam Vinatieri field goals of 47, 52 and 26 yards.
"They made the plays they needed to make and we didn't, especially down in the red zone," said Andrew Luck to Colts Radio. "We needed touchdowns, they held us to field goals. Give credit to them.
"A couple of times we shot ourselves in the foot. A lot of that is a product of their guys making the plays and being in the right spot."
Indianapolis showed unusual resilience in 2012 for a team that sported only 17 players who had been with the team before, one that competed for three months while Pagano was absent while fighting leukemia.
The club won seven games in the fourth quarter or overtime, tying a league mark. Indianapolis was 9-1 in games settled by seven points or less, winning eight straight of those affairs.
Twenty-eight of the club's 53 active-roster players Sunday never had appeared in the playoffs, and they were debuting in a tough environment. Never able to get a nose in the lead, Pagano still loved the character and fight he witnessed.
"This team has no quit," said Pagano. "There is a locker room of great-character guys, great people and great human beings. They gave it their all. What they overcame this year, the circumstances they overcame, was just incredible. It's a testament to our organization, and I'm so proud of those guys."
Luck (28-of-54 passing for 288 yards) failed in his chance to join a short list of rookie quarterbacks to win a playoff debut, though his yardage ranked among the best ever produced.
His dramatic first year ended in a difficult fashion.
"You realize everybody is really, really good in the NFL," said Luck. "If you can make it to the playoffs, you're really, really, really good.
"I'm glad we could make it to the playoffs, but this wasn't our final goal. Like every team wanted to win the Super Bowl. We'll come back in the off-season and work for that."