Rare losing season hits hard inside Colts' locker room
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By MICHAEL MAROT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Frank Gore came to Indianapolis to earn a Super Bowl ring.
He may leave without making a playoff appearance.
If the Colts didn't know their fate before Sunday's 30-10 loss at Jacksonville, they certainly do now. An already lost season has become their first losing season since 2011.
"It's tough, especially knowing that when I got here, the year before I got here, they went to the AFC championship," the 34-year-old Gore said Monday. "I'm used to winning. But this is football and every year is different."
Maybe Gore will find another title contender when he becomes a free agent in March, but he doesn't consider the decision to join Indy a mistake.
Far from it, in fact.
He's enjoyed working with the coaching staff, earned the respect of new teammates and continued to grind out yards at an age when most running backs have been pushed out of the league.
By rushing for 61 yards against the Jags, he moved into fifth on the NFL's career rushing list, 404 yards behind Curtis Martin.
But Gore didn't choose the Colts for individual achievements; he came here to play with Andrew Luck, a quarterback he thought would win and win big.
Instead, Luck has missed half of the past 44 games with injuries and the Colts' expectations have nosedived.
Since coach Chuck Pagano led Indy to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, the Colts have endured back-to-back 8-8 seasons and are 3-9 this season.
The latest loss to the Jags eliminated Indy from the AFC South chase.
It's not easy for anyone to accept, especially the players who have been postseason regulars.
"When you're used to winning, you expect to win," said kicker Adam Vinatieri, one of the few holdovers from the 2-14 debacle of 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the whole season with a neck injury.
"When it becomes real at the end, when you're not going to the playoffs, that's when it becomes difficult."
Vinatieri is one of those fortunate guys. He's been part of more Super Bowl victories (four) than losing seasons (three) since entering the league in 1996.
This season, though, nothing has gone as expected.
Luck hasn't taken a single snap because of offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder and backup Scott Tolzien was benched after just 3+ quarters.
Starting center Ryan Kelly missed the first four games with an injured foot and sat out Sunday with a concussion. Coach Chuck Pagano expects to have Kelly back at practice Wednesday.
But Kelly's absence reflects a much larger problem. With four games left, Indy has used seven starting offensive line combinations and allowed 51 sacks - one short of the fifth-highest single-season total in franchise history and nine more than the Green Bay Packers, who have allowed the second-most this season.
Safety Malik Hooker, Indy's top draft pick, went on injured reserve in Week 7 and cornerback Quincy Wilson, the Colts' second-round pick, returned to the lineup Sunday for the first time since Week 2.
The Colts also have blown four double-digit leads in the second half.
"It's very frustrating," cornerback Rashaan Melvin said. "Any time you're 3-9, you're pretty much out of playoff contention and that's not where we want to be. It's not what we came here to do, so it's very frustrating."
A loss at Buffalo would extend the Colts' postseason absence to three straight years for the first time since 1992-94 and add to the growing speculation about Pagano's future in Indy .
He surprised many by surviving expected firings each of the past two years and needs a strong showing in these final games to show owner Jim Irsay a change is unnecessary.
Even that may not be enough now, though. Since Irsay succeeded his late father, Robert, as team owner, he's fired three head coaches - Lindy Infante after a 3-13 season in 1997, Jim Mora after a 6-10 mark in 2010 and Jim Caldwell after the 2011 season. The only one to survive a losing season was Mora, who went 3-13 in Manning's rookie season in 1998.
But that's not on the mind of the Colts players.
"I just want to win and finish as well as we can," Gore said. "I want to finish strong."
NOTES: Indy put starting cornerback Pierre Desir on injured reserve after he hurt his shoulder Sunday. He will miss the rest of the season. ... The Colts re-signed recently waived running back Matt Jones to take Desir's spot on the active roster. ... Indy also added offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and cornerback Taurean Nixon to the practice squad.
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Updated December 4, 2017