Pagano tries to close debate over Colts’ finishing touch

Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano took advantage of his second chance Monday.

Less than 24 hours after imploring his players to develop a knockout punch, Pagano walked back his postgame comments and tried to put a more positive spin on what happened Sunday night in Houston.

“If I could say it over again, I would probably word it differently because we’ve done it so many times before and they know how to get the job done,” he said. “Just because you get into a situation where you’re up 14 or down 14, you don’t change the way you play.”

There’s no way to sugarcoat how the Colts (2-4) wound up in the AFC South basement after seemingly have sewn up a share of the division lead.

For 3½ quarters, the Colts played their most complete game of the season. The offensive line cleared running lanes and protected Andrew Luck relatively well, the defense held Houston in check and they extended the lead to 14 with 7:04 to go.

With Luck down to only two healthy receivers and two healthy tight ends and the Colts’ injury-riddled secondary getting thinner as the game wore on, Houston rallied to tie the score in the final three minutes before winning in overtime.

Afterward, Pagano told reporters that the Colts must do a better job finishing. And when he was asked if the problem was a lack of mental toughness, Pagano responded: “It’s about having a killer instinct.”

With a little rest and some time to reflect on what went wrong, Pagano adjusted those comments.

“I think what we are right now is a three-quarter team and we’ve got to find a way to become a four-quarter team,” Pagano said “We start some games slow and finish strong. This one, we started fast and didn’t finish well.”

Either way, the poor results keep coming.

After Luck drove the Colts to a go-ahead field goal with 37 seconds left in the season opener, Detroit responded by driving for a field goal and the win.

In Week 2, Luck had the ball back with 1:51 to play and needing a touchdown to win at Denver. This time, Von Miller sacked Luck, stripping the ball that Shane Ray scooped up and returned for the finishing score.

Sunday night’s debacle made it a trilogy.

“If you have the opportunity in this league, you have to put people away,” Luck said Sunday night. “It’s too hard to win games surviving mistakes.”

Clearly, this has been a recurring theme and the numbers prove it.

In almost 3½ seasons, Luck has 37 regular-season wins. Sixteen, or 43.2 percent, came courtesy of fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks.

This season’s only two victories, over the two-win Chargers and one-win Bears, came as a result of long touchdown passes in the final four minutes.

The latest debacle has raised more questions outside the team complex about whether the Colts can close out games. Inside the locker room, it was tough to handle.

“Knowing if we won this, we’d be tied for first,” running back Frank Gore said after ending the league’s longest streak without a 100-yard rusher at 55 games. “We were up, the way we were up, dominating the game, but we didn’t get the job done. That’s tough.”

So Pagano will spend the next few days trying to piece things back together before heading to Tennessee (3-3) this weekend.

“The expectations are the expectations, those never change. This is a winning, winning organization,” Pagano said. “They won a ton (of games) long before I got here. We’ve had good success since I’ve been here and the expectation is to win.”

NOTES: Pagano was still awaiting word on four players who did not finish the game. He said he expected to have updates on tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), linebacker Curt Maggitt (ankle) and receivers Quan Bray (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) later this week. … Pagano said receiver Donte Moncrief, who has missed four straight games with a fractured shoulder blade, is getting healthier but wasn’t yet sure if he would return to practice this week. … Indy waived rookie cornerback Frankie Williams on Monday. Williams was promoted from the practice squad for the game in Houston because of injuries in the secondary.


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