Backing into the AFC South title?
The Indianapolis Colts are not apologizing to anyone for claiming the franchise’s eighth division crown since the start of the 2002 season.
Yes, the Colts lost Sunday 42-28 at Cincinnati. Indianapolis needed to beat the Bengals or hope that Tennessee, the team’s closest rival in the division, would end up losing at Denver later in the day.
While Indianapolis didn’t hold up its end of the bargain, it got the needed help from the Broncos. The Colts wound up as the 2013 AFC South champions.
“I told the team it’s bittersweet,” coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. “We wanted to win [at Cincinnati], play well, catch fire. But there’s only one NFL team that has clinched [a division title]. That’s us.
“The first goal at training camp every year is to win the division. We have that one in the bank. Plenty to work on moving forward.”
His players are ready to move on.
“I don’t think it’s the back door. We put the work in. We got the wins. And we’re AFC South champs,” Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea said.
“We come in, we work. Eight wins. I’m pretty sure Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston, I’m pretty sure they would want to be AFC South champs as well. Of course, we wanted to win the game [against Cincinnati]. But the work we put in, we were able to have the title.”
Quarterback Andrew Luck is just glad to get the AFC South title race behind the team. But that’s just the first of many goals that the Colts set for themselves last spring.
“We want to get [the division championship] going through the front door by winning, but it didn’t happen,” Luck said.
“There’s still a lot to be proud about. We know we’re not playing like we want to at this point. But we also realize the season is not over and we’ve got a lot of games left and hopefully we can build on that and go into the playoffs strong.”
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis agrees.
“You never want to back-door your way into [the AFC South title], but we won. We’re in there, punched our tickets to the playoffs,” Mathis stressed.
“We just have to hit the switch. We have to turn it up and we have to get on the track. It’s one step to our goals. We’ve reached that goal. Now it’s time for phase two and that’s get into the playoffs, get on a roll and win the AFC [championship]. That’s what we’re working toward and those are our goals.”
Phase Two begins Sunday (1 p.m., CBS Sports) at Lucas Oil Stadium when Houston comes to town.
“We’ve got, I think, three more games left in the regular season to hopefully get back on track in a sense, starting with this game coming up,” Luck added.
“We’re happy about being in the playoffs, but we’ve got business to take care of until then.”
• Moving on — The Colts will go into Sunday’s matchup with Houston at 8-5, but have lost three of their last five games.
“They don’t ever quit,” Pagano said of his players. “They’re hurting right now. Everybody is. But they’ll go back to work. We’ve got a home game coming up and we’ll get ready for that.”
Luck knows that the Colts have been struggling to string together a series of positive performances over the last month. Why that is remains somewhat of a mystery.
“I know we are what we put on film, so we’ll have to go back and look at that. What I’ve learned in this league after a year and some games is that every week is its own challenge. You sure can’t look past anybody. You can’t look back,” he said.
“Once you play, we’re looking for the next one. It is one week at a time and we know we’ve got to play better ball. And we’ll be excited to get to practice and get at it.”
• Triplettegate — A day removed from the controversial replay reversal on a 1-yard touchdown run by Cincinnati’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis and people are still talking about referee Jeff Triplette’s decision.
Second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman, who thought he had gotten enough of Green-Ellis’ foot to cause the former Indiana University running back to stumble on fourth down, was asked about the play.
“You get through there, make a play, you get hyped, celebrate about it. But at the same time, I look at it this way: the guy should have never been down there,” Chapman said Monday. “We should’ve handled our business from the beginning. But when they get in the red zone, our job is to keep them out of the end zone.”
Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King also offered his opinion of Triplette’s replay reversal in his Monday Morning Quarterback column. King mentioned that it’s the second straight game that the veteran official has been involved in a controversial decision.
“Jeff Triplette, for the second week in a row, made the kind of decision that makes the American public distrust, if not altogether hate, the officials who work these games. Triplette made a mockery of the term ‘indisputable visual evidence,’ “ King wrote.
Pagano said Monday that he has not heard anything from the NFL offices about the play or the replay reversal.
• Injury list — Running back Chris Rainey was placed on injured reserve Monday. Rainey suffered a fractured fibula in the third quarter of the Cincinnati game and did not return. He was on crutches after the game.
Rainey was signed to the Indianapolis roster two weeks ago. He will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
No word on whether cornerback Greg Toler (groin) or rookie offensive guard Hugh Thornton (neck) will be available to play against the Texans this week.
• Roster move — Former Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice was signed to the Colts roster on Monday. Choice was recently released by Buffalo. He has also played for Dallas.
Choice takes Rainey’s spot on the Indianapolis active roster. He is expected to handle kickoffs and punts for Indianapolis.