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Chuck Pagano after Colts' collapse: 'It stinks and it stings'

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HOUSTON -- Sunday night's 26-23 overtime victory by the Houston Texans over the Indianapolis Colts did not showcase beautiful football. But it was a nifty reminder of how quickly NFL obituaries are rewritten. Early in the fourth quarter, Texans fans were already streaming out of parking lots, convinced their team had lost but hoping they might not have to be subjected to much more of quarterback Brock Osweiler. By the time they pulled into their garages, Osweiler had stolen Andrew Luck's Captain Comeback cape and Chuck Pagano had supplanted him on the firing line. The Colts blew a 14-point lead with under three minutes left, a collapse that marked a low point for a team that has never seemed to recover from that one run to the AFC Championship Game.

The Colts have lost four of their last five division games since the midpoint of last season, and that is at least as damning as losing a game in overtime that they had led 23-9 late in the fourth quarter. That they helped Osweiler strengthen his tenuous grip on his job for at least a week is an interesting footnote -- Osweiler was 12 of 15 for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, following 11 of 22 for 89 yards with an interception in the first three -- but the more immediate problem for the Colts is a confounding lack of a killer instinct. As a result, the Colts are 2-4, hardly dead in the middling AFC South, but in last place for now and searching for some way out of the morass that is the division standings and their own mental torpor.

"It stinks and it stings," said a seething Chuck Pagano. "It's right there. You can't shoot yourselves in the foot. You can't leave points on the field, settle for field goals. You can't have penalties, can't have poor play. We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot and you can't do that."

The Colts did do all of that, though. They had early penalties that stunted some drives. They lacked execution. Andrew Luck threw a poor interception just before halftime, taking away a certain field goal. They had a dubious decision to go for it on fourth-and-one near the goal line, but failed to net a first down. Neither Luck nor Pagano could explain the play to any satisfaction afterward.

"That's what we felt was the best way to get the first down," Luck said. "We can all question it. We can all Monday morning quarterback."

There will be no shortage of that, just as there wasn't last year, when the tension between Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson nearly tore the franchise asunder. A promising early effort against the Texans, particularly by the defense and offensive line, had Houston fans booing loudly and unendingly. A tougher team would have recognized the signs of a reeling opponent with an unsteady quarterback and put their feet on the gas. Instead, the Colts dissolved, which could happen to a lot of the goodwill that emanated from the team after Grigson and Pagano both returned this year. Owner Jim Irsay brokered a kumbaya moment after the 2015 season ended, but the man who thought he was getting another Peyton Manning -- except with more titles for the Colts -- when he drafted Luck can not be happy with the backsliding he is seeing again. The performance of the Colts so far this season is an indictment of everyone involved -- of Grigson for a roster that fails far too often to protect Luck or to mount much of a pass rush; of the coaches for failing to hone a harder edge in a team that sometimes looks soft; and in players who have not found their own backbone. A lot of that was on display in that long ago AFC Championship Game, too, and what should alarm Irsay the most is the failure to build on that marker of progress. The Colts seem further away from that level now than they have since Luck arrived.

Pagano looked stunned in the minutes after the loss, and his gray cap framed his blank stare as reporters practically pleaded for an explanation for why the Colts show all the energy and urgency of a drained battery. He said the Colts would make no excuses, before making a quick allusion to the many injuries they accrued. But Pagano also seemed out of ready answers for what is ailing the Colts.

"When you got the lead in the fourth quarter, you've got to finish," Pagano said. "We all know that. You've got to learn. We've got vets out there that understand it. We got a mix and a blend. This team will fight and they will fight. We've got to find a way to finish people off. We won two games. We're 2-4 -- those games were not easy. We had to come back in those games. You can play better football and not put yourself in situations like we did."

As the Colts quietly dressed, Pagano stood in front of a single camera, ready for a closeup he surely didn't want. He was staring into space again, unspoken thoughts swimming through his head. Just down the hall, Osweiler was blithely brushing off as normal interaction reports that there was tension between him and coach Bill O'Brien. His obituary is on hold for now. The Colts will need their own miraculous recovery to salvage this season.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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