INDIANAPOLIS -- The AFC South championship hats were on the chairs and inside the lockers at the Indianapolis Colts facility on Monday.
Winning the division -- their first since 2010 -- and clinching a playoff spot can be crossed off the list. Now the Colts will move on to their next goal of making a run in the playoffs. But in order to reach that goal the Colts have a lot of work ahead of them.
They know that, too.
“We have to get better,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano bluntly said. "... We're going to address all the areas that need to be addressed and continue to do the things that we feel are necessary in those areas to play winning football."
This division title didn't feel as good as it could have because the Colts wanted to go through the “front door,” according to quarterback Andrew Luck. They ended up going through the back door with some help from Peyton Manning.
“What I told (the players) is it's bittersweet,” Pagano said. “We wanted to go down there and win the football game. We wanted to play good football. We wanted to build off of last week's Tennessee game. We want to start catching fire, if you will. We certainly wanted to do it on our own, so to speak. Win the football game. But then I said, ‘Hey look, there's only one organization, one NFL team in the National Football League right now that has hats. That has clinched their division. And that's the Colts.'”
The Colts will likely finish as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. And even with their spot likely set, Pagano has no intention of resting any players.
That's understandable -- and the right move -- because the Colts have too many issues to fix to think about resting key players. They're not a good enough team that can decide when to turn it on
They gave up 430 yards -- their second-highest total of the season -- to the Bengals, they didn't put any pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton and the secondary struggled.
“Got to make plays,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “We got to make plays on the back end. Of course there's going to be some times when the other team makes plays. They get paid as well, they're professionals as well. But we got to make plays. One thing we always harp on is not letting the ball over our head. You just got to stop those plays.”
That's only the defensive problems.
The offensive line didn't allow a sack for the first time this season, but they only rushed for 63 yards as a team.
That's why the Colts plan to use the final three games against Houston, Kansas City and Jacksonville to try to gain some kind of momentum heading into the playoffs next month.
“We're in there, punched our ticket to the playoffs,” linebacker Robert Mathis said. “We just have to hit the switch. We have to turn it up and we have to get on the right track -- offense, defense and special teams.”