- Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One moment the Indianapolis Colts are one of the feel-good stories of the NFL, the team that’s overcome the adversity of losing five offensive players to season-ending injuries to be on top of the division. The next moment, they’re the team that leaves you scratching your head wondering how in the world are they in first place in the AFC South.
You know what?
That feeling won’t go away anytime soon.
The past four weeks haven’t been an aberration. These are your Indianapolis Colts. So sit back, strap up and prepare to be taken on an emotional roller-coaster ride during the final five weeks of the season.
“Yeah, it stinks,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow for anybody when you get beat like this. We have to worry about us and get things fixed on our end.”
Several Colts said they're not concerned about how things have gone recently. They should be concerned because things aren't going to drastically turn around for them.
The mood inside the locker room said it all.
Players weren’t sitting around talking to each other at their lockers. It was near silence as they quickly dressed to head to the bus for their flight home. The normally media-friendly Robert Mathis left without talking to reporters. His frustration was evident late in the first half when he threw his hands up in disgust after Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald's 16-yard catch on third down extended the drive for them.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw around the word “stink” in some form six times during his postgame news conference the same way Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer threw the ball around the field on Indianapolis’ defense.
“It stinks,” Luck said. “It’s frustrating, but we realize the onus is on us to get it fixed. It’s on the players to do our job. I have to do my job better if we are going to have a chance to win consistently.”
The Colts are 11 games into the season and they have yet to establish an identity. They have beaten the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos to only turnaround and get manhandled by the Cardinals and St. Louis Rams.
Running game? Nope. The Trent Richardson trade has been a bust.
Passing game? It’s anybody’s guess who will show up at receiver each week for the Colts. Luck had the second-lowest passing game of his career with 163 yards.
The defense? It's more surprising when a pass isn't completed against them these days. Palmer threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
The Colts’ slow starts have become laughable. They have been outscored 92-13 in the first half of their past four games. They’ve played only three decent quarters out of their past 16. Defensive lineman Cory Redding lowered his head some, shook it and said finding a way to fix their slow starts is the “million-dollar question.”
“There’s blood in the water right now and until we get it fixed they are going to keep coming at us,” Pagano said. “It’s the same thing week in and week out on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Until you put out the fire, they will keep testing you until you put the fire out.”
Part of the reason behind the lack of an identity is because injuries have decimated the Colts. Not having Reggie Wayne, Donald Thomas, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard and Dwayne Allen has put players in roles they’re not capable of handling.
The “Next Man Up” theme Indianapolis has used for so long isn’t working right now.
“There has to be some soul searching, some gut-check calls,” Redding said. “Some look in the mirrors, some accountability, whatever it takes. Everybody. We have to dig deep, find a way to get this win against Tennessee next week.”
Something has to change, and it has to happen soon. The Colts still have a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. But if they lose to the Titans next weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium, the polo shirt Pagano wears during games will get even tighter. It’s his job to ensure his players are ready to play each week.
“We just haven’t been executing from the get go,” linebacker Pat Angerer said. “We still have our goals ahead of us. We definitely have to start playing better and something has to change.”
Finding an identity would be a start.