By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Trent Richardson isn't going anywhere. Greg Toler remains a valuable piece of the future. And the Indianapolis Colts already have set their sights on reaching Super Bowl XLIX.
Those are the salient points coming from general manager Ryan Grigson's season-ending news conference Thursday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
After a 12-win season ended Saturday in the AFC's divisional playoff round, Indianapolis' resolve has strengthened. The 43-22 loss to the New England Patriots exposed and magnified the Colts' weaknesses, but that's all part of the process of building a consistent winner.
"I'd honestly be lying if I said that every year we're not looking, and this year especially, looking hard at the Super Bowl," Grigson said. "The quarterback, you win in this league with great quarterbacks, and we have a great one. We have to keep surrounding him with the right people that are like-minded, that are aspiring to greatness like he does every single day when he walks in this building and when his head hits the pillow at night. Those are the type of guys we need."
Guys who can beat the Patriots on the road with the season on the line. Or, better still, guys who can help the Colts win enough games to avoid the road altogether in the postseason.
Indianapolis was close in 2013. One more regular-season victory would have assured a first-round bye and homefield advantage for the divisional round. Two more wins would have kept the team at home throughout the AFC playoffs.
The key to taking the next step could be consistency.
"This year, if you look at our team and our wins, we've beaten the best," Grigson said. "It's already been stated, but three of the four teams in this (conference championship round), this team has beaten. And the other team, we were down by seven in the fourth quarter to. But we've got to put it together for four quarters. We can't have the roller-coaster ride."
The Colts beat both NFC finalists (San Francisco and Seattle) as well as the AFC's top seed (Denver) during the regular season. But they also lost by scores of 38-8 to St. Louis and 40-11 to Arizona, two teams that did not qualify for the postseason.
Some of that can be written off to the team's relative youth. Injuries also played a role, with Indianapolis ending the season with 17 players on the injured reserve list. But roster construction also comes into play.
In his second season, Grigson did not match the heights of his work from 2012. The biggest black mark comes from a September trade of a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Richardson. The running back looked nothing like the third-overall pick from the 2012 draft, averaging 2.9 yards a carry and scoring three touchdowns in 14 games for the Colts.
Grigson understands the high-profile nature of the trade will keep it foremost in the minds of fans and media, but he asks for a little patience.
"We have him for the long haul," Grigson said. "We don't win 12 games this year if Trent Richardson isn't here. That's just a fact."
The GM pointed to Richardson's pass blocking as one of the overlooked areas in which he helped the team win. Grigson believes a full offseason and a chance to get acclimated to family life in Indianapolis will help make the running back a different player in 2014.
For Toler, another frequent target of fans' scorn, the issue is simply getting healthy. The cornerback missed seven games with a groin injury and clearly returned too soon.
Toler was burned twice for big plays in the wild-card game against Kansas City before leaving later in the first half after re-aggravating the injury.
"Toler, I thought, was playing excellent football, and when he was playing our defense was humming," Grigson said. "You saw it (against) Denver. When Greg was in there, we really locked down those receivers, and that's when we had that 'no fly zone' going and we were doing really well. But you adapt (to injuries). We found a way to get it done and still beat really good teams, and that's a credit to our coaches. We found a way."
That might be the best epithet for the 2013 Indianapolis Colts. They found a way.
There's still plenty of work to do for the franchise to reach its ultimate goal. Some 14 players are eligible for free agency beginning March 11, and not all of them will return. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton also is being courted by Vanderbilt University, and Indianapolis could be looking at its second change at that position is as many years.
The time for making those decisions will come. For now, Grigson wants his coaches to enjoy leading one of the teams in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 26 and then take a break from the game for awhile.
Sometime soon, everyone will reconvene at Colts' headquarters and the business of the 2014 season will begin in earnest.
"We got to be smart and succient with our approach," Grigson said. "Everybody wants to have it now in the microwave society and open the microwave door before the time's even up. But we've got to have some patience and build this thing the right way with these young players we have."