Indianapolis taking long view after another embarrassing playoff exit to Patriots



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INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts took one page out of Bill Belichick's book Monday.

They're already on to next season.

They'd like to borrow another — reaching the Super Bowl.

Less than 24 hours after another stinging playoff exit at New England, Indianapolis' players and coaches turned their attention from the disappointment of falling short to a seemingly bright future for one of the younger teams in the league.

"We are close and every year we've taken another step," defensive end Cory Redding said as he started packing up his locker. "I believe next year, we will take that next step."

To achieve that goal, the Colts (13-6) know they cannot afford to stand pat.

After stringing together three straight 11-win seasons, back-to-back AFC South titles and going one step deeper in the playoffs during each of Andrew Luck's first three seasons, New England again exploited Indy's most glaring deficiencies in a 45-7 AFC championship game rout.

While Luck has excelled behind a makeshift offensive line the past two years, the Colts' ground game has not.

Defensively, Indy still has not found a solution to New England's power running game, either.

The combination prompted team owner Jim Irsay to tell reporters Sunday night that Indianapolis must become a "tougher" team to continue its ascent, just three years removed from a 2-14 season that allowed Irsay to completely rebuild.

Coach Chuck Pagano acknowledged those are two areas the Colts must improve in the coming months, if they are to get past their biggest nemesis.

And make no mistake — those moves will be designed to turn the tables on New England, which has beaten Luck four straight times by a combined 189-73.

Pagano has no doubt the Colts can find a way to break through.

"This is an up-and-coming team," Pagano said. "There are things from that game that we recognize that need to be addressed and we will address them. ... We're knocking at the door and we've got to find a way to kick it in."

Here are some other things to watch during the offseason:

RETIREMENT RUMORS: Redding and receiver Reggie Wayne, two cornerstones of Indy's resurgence, are both free agents. At ages 34 and 36, it's unclear whether the Colts will bring them back — or whether they even want to come back. Both said Monday they would take some time before making a decision, but both believe the Colts could make a Super Bowl run in 2015. "This is a good team," Wayne said. "We had a lot of guys who fought through a lot of stuff and we made a lot of progress."

TRENT'S FUTURE: Trent Richardson's may not be back with the Colts next season. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft has been a huge disappointment, and it's become increasingly clear Indy is unhappy with him. Since losing the starting job with two games left in the regular season, Richardson took one offensive snap in a wild-card round win over Cincinnati and was inactive for the final two playoff games, on Sunday because of a family emergency.

INJURY QUESTIONS: Vick Ballard, Gosder Cherilus, Robert Mathis and Donald Thomas all wound up on injured reserve. The biggest question is what can the Colts expect in 2015? Ballard, a running back, has missed 31 straight regular-season games. Thomas, an offensive guard, has missed 30 in a row. Mathis, the 2013 sacks champ, is coming off a torn Achilles tendon at age 33, and 30-year-old Cherilus, Indy's right tackle, had three different injuries this season and was getting around on crutches Monday.

DRAFTING: Indy has been a bigger player in free agency in Pagano's first three seasons. But general manager Ryan Grigson believes the draft is a foundation for success. With a young team and lots of contracts up after the 2015 season, the Colts need another good draft to get some young, inexpensive talent to get them past the Patriots.

SIGNINGS: Indy signed receivers Kadron Boone, Ryan Lankford and Josh Lenz, defensive linemen Gannon Conway and Kelcy Quarles, running back Jeff Demps, linebacker Carlos Fields, safety Winston Guy, offensive lineman Tyler Hoover, and tight end Erik Swoope to futures contracts. All 10 were on Indy's practice squad.


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