INDIANAPOLIS — Crazier things have certainly happened in the NFL, but the Indianapolis Colts now need a minor miracle to get back into the playoff picture with three games left to go in the 2016 regular season.
The Colts came into Sunday's home game against the Houston Texans knowing that a win would put them in the driver's seat in the AFC South Division standings. A loss, however, and Indianapolis would need to rely on teams in other cities to help them stay in contention.
The result on Sunday was the latter; the Colts were unable to squeak out what turned out to be yet another extremely tight game, and fell to the Texans, 22-17, to move to 6-7 on the season.
Despite the loss — and the need for other teams to help them take care of business the rest of the way — Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said his message to his team doesn't change in the final three weeks of the season.
"We had a great opportunity, we fought ourselves back in this race to be put in this position and we didn't take advantage of it," Pagano said. "We have a ball game coming up, we have three left. I don't have a crystal ball, none of those guys have a crystal ball. I don't know what is going to happen, all we can worry about is us. We will go back to work like we always do and get ready for the next one."
With the win, the Texans move to 7-6 and currently hold the tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans, who earned an impressive 13-10 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday to also improve to 7-6 on the year.
For the Colts to have a shot at a playoff spot, they now need to win their remaining three games (against the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars) and see the Texans go 1-2 over their final three games (against the Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals and Titans), as well as the Titans to go 2-1 over their final three (against the Kansas City Chiefs, Jaguars and Texans).
If you're in the Colts' locker room, those last two scenarios just don't matter, however.
"Focusing on anybody else gets us nowhere," said outside linebacker Akeem Ayers, who grabbed his first interception of the season on Sunday. "We're just going to focus on ourselves and just do what we can do. If you love football, you're going to go out there and play hard every game. You want to win — winning is winning regardless. You just focus on yourself, go out there next week and win a game, and win another one and just finish the season and do what we can do."
For quarterback Andrew Luck, looking at the big picture is difficult for players when it's engrained in your head from the time you start playing football to keep your focus on "one day at a time."
"We just worry about the next game," Luck said. "It is a cliché but it's true. So we know we have to go out and take care of our business. There's a little bit of hoping involved but we still have to take care of business."
The challenge for the Colts this week, Luck said, is "pretty simple."
"You still work," he said. "ou just focus on the next game and let other things take care of themselves. Again, it's all about the next game for us. They're all big and this is the biggest one coming up."