One of the most memorable seasons in 29 years of professional football in Indianapolis came to an end Sunday afternoon.
By losing at Baltimore 24-9 to an inspired Ravens team in an AFC wild-card game, the Colts picked the worst possible time to resemble the franchise in transition that they are.
The one starting five, sometimes six, rookies on offense that carried on throughout the majority of the 16-game regular-season schedule minus its head coach as he endured leukemia treatments. The one forced to make do Sunday without offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who watched from a Baltimore hospital bed after being admitted earlier in the day for an undisclosed illness.
More often than not, the Chuckstrong phenomenon — named for first-year Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano — coupled with Arians’ Midas touch as interim coach was enough to put the Colts in position to win. For a team predicted by many in August to scratch out a few victories and no more, Indianapolis’s 11-5 record was the NFL’s feel-good story.
But the Ravens have one of their own.
Motivated by the impending retirement of 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis, Baltimore’s defense kept the Colts out of the end zone, their lone points coming on Adam Vinatieri field goals of 47, 52 and 26 yards. Moreover, a pair of second-half touchdown passes thrown by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco enabled Baltimore to pull away from its slim 10-6 halftime advantage.
Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck completed 28 of 54 passes for 267 yards, while first-year back Vick Ballard capped his outstanding season with 91 yards rushing on 22 carries.
The loss prevented Indianapolis from playing a second-round game at Denver this weekend against the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning, who was property of the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2011.
That honor instead belongs to Lewis, who’ll be looking yet again to extend his first-ballot Hall of Fame career by another week.
In Indianapolis, the story is just starting to be written.