Colts imperfect quest not getting any easier
INDIANAPOLIS—The dour expressions and quiet tone in the Colts locker room were a tell-tale sign of how bleak things have gotten.
Two years after contending with questions about a perfect season, the Colts are now repeatedly answering questions about their potential to become the second team in league history to go 0-16, a possibility that looks more and more likely after losing at home to Carolina on Sunday.
"It's really not any different than when we were 16-0," said cornerback Jerraud Powers, a rookie on the Colts' 2009 AFC title team. "Except that everyone's going to be on the bandwagon when you're 16-0 and when you're 0-16, everyone gives you a reason and an excuse as to why you're doing what you're doing."
What the Colts (0-11) have done far too often this season is find ways to lose.
On Sunday, they threw away two late scoring chances with interceptions in the Carolina end zone. A touchdown and a 2-point conversion might have at least forced overtime.
It's not the first time something has gone wrong for the Colts.
During one four-week span, Pittsburgh drove for a winning field goal in the final 2 minutes, Tampa Bay scored the winning TD with 3:15 to play, Kansas City rallied from a 17-point deficit and the Bengals won by forcing a late fumble and returning it for a touchdown.
That was followed by a dismal four-game stretch in which Indy was outscored 137-27 and the offense was held out of the end zone for eight consecutive quarters. The drought finally ended in the second quarter Sunday, but the late turnovers did them in against the Panthers.
"Every game we've been in to win, we've found a way to shoot ourselves in the foot," Powers said Monday. "We've got to find a way to not beat ourselves. If a team beats us because they're better than us, you can live with that."
The problem is that the remaining schedule is filled with teams that are better.
On Sunday, the Colts head to New England (8-3) to face one of the AFC's top teams. Then it's off to Baltimore (8-3) to face another team looking to secure home-field advantage. After a home game with playoff hopeful Tennessee (6-5), the Colts host Houston (8-3) before wrapping up the season at Jacksonville (3-8).
Add it all up and it looks like this: Indy faces three division leaders in four weeks and three games against teams -- Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee -- that have already beaten the Colts this year.
If they don't win one of them, they'll join the 2008 Detroit Lions in infamy at 0-16.
"If I told you there was no frustration in here, I'd be lying to you," defensive tackle Fili Moala said. "We all support each other, we all encourage each other, so there's no separation. When that separation starts, you can break it (the season) down and put away the box."
Outside the locker room, it's a different story.
Fans are now talking almost exclusively about the No. 1 pick that comes with being the NFL's worst team and whether four-time league MVP Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, perhaps the best NFL prospect since Manning, can co-exist. They want a coaching change and changes in the front office.
While some fans wonder if it's even worth trying to win a game this season, others openly questioned whether the Colts were putting forth the effort to win during that four-game stretch against New Orleans, Tennessee, Atlanta and Jacksonville.
Players insist they want to get this turned around.
"Everyone's frustrated, but we're still working hard every week," tight end Jacob Tamme said.
But working hard hasn't gotten the Colts a win yet.
Correcting all those mistakes and getting the offense, defense and special teams to put together a complete game for the first time all season.
"Guys want to win," Moala said. "It's not like guys have thrown in the towel. That doesn't exist in this locker room. I know that before this season is over, we'll put something together."