Backing into the AFC South title?
The Indianapolis Colts are not apologizing to anyone for annexing the franchise's eighth division crown since the start of the 2002 season.
Yes, the Colts lost 42-28 on the road at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Indianapolis needed to beat the Bengals or hope that the Tennessee Titans, the team's closest rival in the division, would end up losing at the Denver Broncos later in the day.
While Indianapolis didn't hold up its end of the bargain, the Colts got the needed help from the Broncos. The Colts wound up as the 2013 AFC South champions.
"I told the team it's bittersweet," coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. "We wanted to win (at Cincinnati), play well, catch fire. But there's only one NFL team that has clinched (a division title). That's us.
"The first goal at training camp every year is to win the division. We've have that one in the bank. Plenty to work on moving forward."
His players are ready to move on.
"I don't think it's the back door. We put the work in. We got the wins. And we're (the) AFC South champs," safety Antoine Bethea said.
"We come in, we work. Eight wins. I'm pretty sure Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston, I'm pretty sure they would want to be AFC South champs as well. Of course, we wanted to win the game (against Cincinnati). But the work we put in, we were able to have the (division) title."
Quarterback Andrew Luck is just glad to get the AFC South title race behind the team. But that's just the first of many goals that the Colts set for themselves last spring during organized team activity workouts.
"We want to get (the division championship) going through the front door by winning (at Cincinnati), but it didn't happen," Luck said.
"There's still a lot to be proud about. We know we're not playing like we want to at this point. But we also realize the season is not over and we've got a lot of games left and hopefully we can build on that and go into the playoffs strong."
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis agrees.
"You never want to backdoor your way into (the AFC South title), but we won (the division). We're in there (the playoffs), punched our tickets to the playoffs," Mathis stressed.
"We just have to hit the switch. We have to turn it up and we have to get on the track. (Being in the postseason is) one step to our goals. We've reached that goal. Now it's time for phase two and that's get into the playoffs, get on a roll and win the AFC (championship). That's what we're working toward and those are our goals."
Phase Two begins Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium when division opponent Houston comes to town.
"We've got, I think, three more games left in the regular season to hopefully get back on track in a sense, starting with this game coming up," Luck added.
"We're happy about being in the playoffs, but we've got business to take care of until then."
--Colts coach Chuck Pagano was asked where he believes his team is in the wake of losing to Cincinnati.
"We try to measure ourselves every week," he said. "We'll take a look at the (game) tape, obviously. You have certain feelings in all three phases and the outcome and those types of things. But, again, we'll go back to work and we'll grind. We've got a resilient, a tough-minded group. They don't ever quit. They're hurting right now. Everybody is. But they'll go back to work. We've got a home game coming up (against Houston) and we'll get ready for that."
--Quarterback Andrew Luck knows the Colts have been struggling to string together a series of positive performances over the past month. Why that is remains somewhat of a mystery.
"I know we are what we put on film, so we'll have to go back and look at that," he said. "What I've learned in this league after a year and some games is that every week is its own challenge. You sure can't look past anybody. You can't look back. Once you play, we're looking for the next one. It is one week at a time and we know we've got to play better ball. And we'll be excited to get to practice and get at it."
--The 25 degree temperature at kickoff of the Cincinnati game was the fifth-coldest in franchise history. Indianapolis' 10-7 1995 playoff win (Jan. 7, 1996) over Kansas City was the coldest at 11 degrees.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Chris Rainey (fibula) was placed on injured reserve Monday. Rainey suffered a fractured fibula in the third quarter of the Cincinnati game and did not return. He was on crutches after the game. Rainey was signed to the Indianapolis roster two weeks ago. He will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
--CB Greg Toler (groin) remains sidelined. He has not played since he was injured against Denver on Oct. 20. Toler saw light work in practice last week but has yet been cleared to fully participate in a workout or play in a game.
--OG Hugh Thornton (neck) did not play against Cincinnati. Thornton was hurt in last week's game with Tennessee. He saw limited work in practice last week but was not cleared to play against the Bengals.
--RB Tashard Choice was signed to the Colts' roster on Monday. Choice was recently released by Buffalo. He has also played for Dallas. Choice takes the spot of injured RB/KR Chris Rainey on the active roster. He is expected to handle kickoffs and punts for the Colts.
--S Sergio Brown continues to impress with his special teams work. Even with his right hand wrapped up due to an injury, he has become one of the best in the league as a gunner getting downfield on punt coverage and downing punts inside the five-yard line. He did it twice against the Bengals and has done it three times so far this season.
--S Antoine Bethea had a career-high 17 total tackles in the loss to Cincinnati. His previous best was 15 total tackles against Dallas in 2010.
--OG/OT Joe Reitz replaced injured rookie OG Hugh Thornton as a starter against the Bengals. Reitz has started 17 games over the past two seasons. With his move into the starting lineup, it marked the fifth different offensive line combination for Indianapolis this season.
--Prior to the Cincinnati game, QB Andrew Luck had been sacked in 25 consecutive regular-season games. That was the Colts' second-longest streak since the 1982 season. Luck was not sacked against the Bengals.
--OLB Daniel Adongo made his NFL and American football debut against the Bengals on Sunday. Adongo is a former professional rugby player in Kenya, South Africa and New Zealand. He signed with the Colts prior to the start of training camp and has spent the last four months learning all the nuances of American football. He work on special teams in the Cincinnati game.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS:
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- QB Andrew Luck completed 29 of 46 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns. It was his fourth 300-yard passing game of the season. He did not get sacked or throw an interception. Luck had a 113.1 passer rating. Rookie WR Da'Rick Rogers caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, including a 69-yard effort. WR LaVon Brazill had three catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns. RB Trent Richardson added five receptions for 68 yards. TE Coby Fleener also had five receptions.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Luck was the Colts' leading rusher with 32 yards in two carries. Richardson had 20 yards in six carries while RB Donald Brown added 11 yards in four rushing attempts. Indianapolis only rushed the ball 12 times after falling behind early in the game once again. Luck had the longest run of the day for either team with a 29-yard scramble.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Bengals QB Andy Dalton was able to pick apart the Indianapolis defense with relative ease. He was not sacked and completed 24 of 35 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. WR A.J. Green had six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. TE Jermaine Gresham added five receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. WR Marvin Jones had a touchdown catch. Dalton left the game with a 120.5 passer rating.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Rookie RB Giovani Bernard had a game-high 99 yards in 12 carries while BenJarvus Green-Ellis added 17 carries for 48 yards and two touchdowns. His first score was a disputed one as it appeared as if the Colts defense had come up with a fourth-down goal-line stop. But after a replay review, the call was overturned and Green-Ellis was credited with the touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- PK Adam Vinatieri missed his only field-goal attempt of the day as he was wide right on a 44-yard attempt in the first half. P Pat McAfee averaged 37.1 yards net and 47.6 yards overall on seven punts. He had four kicks downed inside the Bengals' 20-yard line. McAfee also had one kickoff touchback. RB/KR Chris Rainey averaged 21.5 yards on four kickoff returns and CB Cassius Vaughn averaged 27 yards on two kickoff returns. The Colts, though, allowed Cincinnati to average 18.3 yards on four punt returns and 28.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
COACHING: C -- The Colts have to figure out what is going on with their uneven performances over the past month. Indianapolis has not been in sync on offense or defense since its Oct. 20 home win over Denver. Injuries have played a part in the team's struggles. But the Colts have been inconsistent in starting games and have putting themselves behind the eight-ball in a hurry. Coach Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff need to pull the team together in a hurry.
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