No one in the Colts locker room late Sunday afternoon cared their team had just secured a top-five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
What mattered to the players who took off their jerseys and pads for the last time in the 2022 season was the result of the game they just played: A gutting 32-31 loss to the Houston Texans, the team's seventh in a row and one which brought finality to a 4-12-1 season.
"We had a losing season. I'm pretty pissed off, to be honest," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "Obviously high expectations, and for our season to go the way it did, and to obviously end the way it did, I mean, it sucks."
And for interim head coach Jeff Saturday, he was still processing the disappointment of Sunday's loss – and was not in the headspace to begin looking ahead to the interview process of the Colts' coaching search that'll commence this month.
"I've given zero thought to any of that," Saturday said." I told those guys when I walked in the locker room the first time, and it has not changed, was to serve them the best I could. And I feel for those guys. They're the ones that lay it out on the line every week."
The last game of the Colts' season, though, ended in a fashion that's become all too familiar. The Colts battled throughout a back-and-forth game, but self-inflicted mistakes – a lost fumble and two Sam Ehlinger interceptions, one of which was a pick-six – breathed life into the Texans. And when a play needed to be made, Houston quarterback Davis Mills' last-ditch heave to the end zone on fourth and 20 cruelly sailed just over the hands of safety Rodney Thomas II and into the arms of tight end Jordan Akins; Akins' reception converted the game-winning two-point conversion on the next play.
That was it: Self-inflicted mistakes and coming up one play short. The Colts finished 2022 with a 4-6-1 record in one-score games.
"No doubt in my mind, this roster we had is a very talented roster," wide receiver Parris Campbell said. "Obviously every man in this room did not think this would be the outcome."
There were bright spots, though. Linebacker Zaire Franklin set a new franchise record with 166 tackles. Running back Zack Moss rushed 18 times for 114 yards – a new career high – and rumbled for an impressive, physical touchdown. Buckner played hard, with three quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss. Safety Rodney McLeod Jr. had a pick-six.
And after Thomas notched his team-high fourth interception of the season, he honored his close friend, Damar Hamlin, in his celebration.
Thomas, though, was disappointed in his role in how the ended after coming millimeters away from a game-clinching play.
"Nothing but heart, nothing but grit, nothing but fight. coming out of this team," Thomas said. "That's why it's killing me the end of the game happened the way it was. Just gotta make the play."
After the game, Franklin – a three-time team captain – made his way around the home locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium, making sure to deliver a message to every player on the team. From rookie left tackle Bernhard Raimann to veteran wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to Thomas, Franklin delivered words of respect and encouragement to a group of guys who fell short of their goal in 2022, but will turn the page to the 2023 season in the coming weeks.
"Think about last year, (we were) 9-6, need one (win), have two games to get one to get into the playoffs and we squander that opportunity," Franklin said. "Fast-forward the next year, the team that fans had clown masks at the game (the Jaguars) won the division. That's how fast things can turn in both ways.
"Even though it was a tough year for us and we've gone through a lot of turmoil, it's the NFL. All you gotta do is get hot and get rolling, get the right situations in place and let's keep it moving. Understanding that the pendulum swings either way. Don't take it for granted and take advantage of every opportunity we have."
The Colts take on the Houston Texans in Week 18 at Lucas Oil Stadium.