The Herald Bulletin
---- — The Indianapolis Colts defeated three of the NFL’s conference finalists this season. No other team can make that claim.
Of course, the Colts also lost by scores of 38-8 to St. Louis and 40-11 to Arizona, a pair of teams who did not qualify for the postseason.
If Indianapolis had successfully closed out a 24-20 loss against Miami in Week 2, it would have earned a first-round bye and homefield advantage for the AFC divisional round and might still be playing.
And all of that encapsulates a topsy-turvy 2013 campaign for the AFC South champions. There was plenty of good, a healthy portion of bad and a little bit of ugly along the way.
If someone had said during the summer that the Colts would lose tight end Dwayne Allen after the season opener and wide receiver Reggie Wayne following Week 7, the outlook would have been far worse than the season-ending 43-22 loss at New England on Saturday night.
Indianapolis navigated those injuries — and several others including the losses of running back Vick Ballard, left guard Donald Thomas and cornerback Greg Toler — to match last year’s 11-5 record and pick up the first playoff win of the Chuck Pagano era.
The season will be remembered for Robert Mathis’ 19.5 sacks, the emergence of young receiver T.Y. Hilton and Andrew Luck’s dive into the end zone during the 28-point comeback in the wild-card round against Kansas City.
But it will also be remembered for the struggles of Trent Richardson, a defense that surrendered 40 or more points four times including both playoff games and a less-than-glorious offseason for second-year general manager Ryan Grigson.
The last will be of most immediate importance.
Indianapolis will have upwards of $35 million in salary-cap room this offseason and will need to make decisions on cornerback Vontae Davis, safety Antoine Bethea, running back Donald Brown, kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee among others.
And Grigson will set about finding a second pass-rushing threat, improving the run defense and upgrading the interior of the offensive line with just four draft picks. With Wayne coming back from a serious knee injury at age 35, the Colts also could look to add a wide receiver to groom beside Hilton.
Many of the same needs existed a year ago, and Grigson must do a better job of filling them if Indianapolis is to reach the next level.
That being said, however, there is no doubt this franchise is headed in the right direction. The Colts have proven they can play with the league’s elite competition, and the offense should only improve in its second season under coordinator Pep Hamilton and with the healthy return of so many key pieces.
The reasons for optimism really begin with Luck. His seven playoff interceptions should not override guiding the offense to a regular-season low 14 turnovers.
Like the team around him, the 24-year-old quarterback has plenty of room for improvement. But his 67-point postseason performance proves he’s ready to make the leap to the next level.
With a solid offseason of growth, the Colts could rise right along with him.