INDIANAPOLIS –Losing a key road game then having your nearest division rival lose to settle the AFC South race yielded a non-celebratory feeling as Chuck Pagano bused to Indianapolis, but he did so knowing goal number one was reached.
"What I told them is it's bittersweet," said Pagano about what he told his troops today after a 42-28 setback in Cincinnati. "We wanted to go down there, win the game and play good football.
"We wanted to build off of last week's Tennessee game. We want to start catching fire, certainly wanted to do it (clinch) on our own."
It was a quiet locker room moments after the verdict. A two-hour bus ride did nothing to alleviate the realization that all three units could have played better in a critical loss.
Today brought the same dissatisfaction framed with a message.
"I said, 'Hey look, there's only one organization, one team right now that has hats, that has clinched their division. That's the Colts,' " said Pagano. "Everybody got a schedule at the beginning of the year, 16 games on it.
"We did enough good things early in the season (and) beat some really good football teams. We did attain our number one goal, and that was to win the division. We have that in the bank, and we'll try to move forward to our second goal."
Denver and Seattle also clinched playoff berths, but not division crowns.
This is the same week the Colts either clinched a playoff berth, a first-round bye or home-field advantage in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. In those seasons, plus for the finale in 2008, the Colts decided to rest starters periodically so a fresh approach could be taken for the playoffs.
It was the same case last year when Pagano returned. The Colts had clinched the AFC's fifth seed with a win at Kansas City prior to his return for the Houston finale.
The approach then will be what it is now **(click here)**.
"We talked today and said, 'They gave us 16 games, we're playing 16 games.' Right now, we've got a lot of things to get better at," said Pagano. "We go back to work and play good football, consistent football for 60 minutes.
"This is stick to the process, next game, and that's all we're worried about. That's where our total focus is right now is – on the Texans. We've got to get better. We got to play."
Pagano has seen his offense struggle in the first halves of the last six games. It roared to life Sunday at Cincinnati in the final 30 minutes but after holding matters defensively as long as it could, the defense yielded four touchdowns.
The clubs played to a 28-28 second-half standoff, and some damaging Bengals kick returns abetted the downfall.
"You look at the tape and probably see a lot of the same things that you guys see and can point out and pick out," said Pagano of breakdowns that littered the stat sheet. "We're going to address all the areas that need to be addressed and continue to do the things that we feel are necessary to play winning football."
Indianapolis is in need of better third-down conversions. A defense that had three interceptions a week ago against Tennessee did not make the same types of plays this past week, and the unit has allowed an average of 32 points per game for the last six contests.
"There's signs in all three phases, in all these games where we do some really good stuff," said Pagano. "We just got to do it on a consistent basis."
PERSONNEL NEWS – The Colts put RB-Chris Rainey (fibula fracture) on injured reserve and have signed veteran RB-Tashard Choice. Choice has opened four-of-85 career games, having played for Dallas, Washington and, most recently, Buffalo. He has rushed for 1,535 yards and 10 touchdowns, while having 80 receptions.
COLTS NOTES – Andrew Luck has taken virtually every snap over his first two seasons, and his 7,493 passing yards rank as the third-most for any player starting his first two seasons…Luck moved ahead of Dan Marino with 326 yards Sunday, and ranks behind Cam Newton (7,920) and Peyton Manning (7,874)…should Luck start the club's playoff game, he would place himself among other QBs who have opened playoff games in consecutive seasons to start a career in the Super Bowl era…should Baltimore qualify and Joe Flacco start, it would be a sixth straight year he has done so…Marino and Bernie Kosar rank second with three straight playoff years to open a career…Cincinnati's Andy Dalton could join them should the Bengals qualify…Luck and Seattle's Russell Wilson could join Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Sanchez with two straight playoff seasons to start a career…Luck needs one more TD pass to join Marino, Manning, Dalton and Wilson as the only QBs to pass for at least 20 TDs in each of their first two seasons.