INDIANAPOLIS -- It was all about progress for the Indianapolis Colts. Could they continue to move up the AFC ladder after two solid seasons with quarterback Andrew Luck? Or would they take a step back?
Luck got better and so did the Colts. They followed up their 2013 divisional playoff appearance by advancing to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the New England Patriots.
Luck, general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano are now 3-for-3 in reaching the postseason.
The Colts have their sights on reaching the Super Bowl next season. But they know the roster must improve in order to get past Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who have eliminated the Colts from the playoffs the past two years.
Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Luck wins this honor by a landslide. The Colts aren’t a playoff team without him on the roster. He led the NFL in touchdown passes (40) and was third in passing yards (4,761). In his first three seasons with the franchise, he moved ahead of Peyton Manning in his first three years for most victories (33 to 26), passing yards (12,957 to 12,287), passing touchdowns (86 to 85) and 300-yard passing games (19 to 11). The one problem area Luck had this season was with turnovers. His 22 turnovers -- 16 interceptions and six fumbles lost -- were second in the league.
Best moment: The only thing standing in the Colts’ way of getting back to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2009 was the player who led them to that game: Peyton Manning. The odds were stacked against the Colts because they were playing on the road in Denver and Manning had picked them apart for 269 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 1. But the Colts played one of their best games of the season in the rematch. They held the Broncos to 288 yards of total offense, sacked Manning twice and forced a turnover. And the offensive line made Broncos defensive stars Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware seem like average players while not giving up a sack.
Worst moment: The easy way to look at it would be the 38-point loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, but the Colts' overall struggles against elite quarterbacks showed that they need a better defensive front. Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger and Manning (in the first game) all got the best of the Colts. Roethlisberger did the most damage, going 40-of-49 for 522 yards and six touchdowns with no sacks or interceptions on Oct. 26. The 51 points the Colts gave up to the Steelers were the most Indy had allowed since New England scored 59 in the 2012 season.
2015 outlook: The Colts will continue to dominate the AFC South as long as Luck is under center. But it’s not about continuing to own the division, it’s about making the Super Bowl. And in order to do that, the Colts have to get tougher. Owner Jim Irsay didn’t waste any time when he said that after the loss to the Patriots. Irsay talked about the makeup of teams like the Patriots, Green Bay, Dallas and Seattle. That’s where the Colts want to get to. The Colts have to find a running back to complement Luck. Defensive lineman Cory Redding, cornerback Darius Butler, safety Mike Adams and running back Ahmad Bradshaw are notable free agents who could be brought back next season.