INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to on-the-field obstacles, Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano has not faced one bigger than the one that he's currently enduring.
Pagano was able to overcome the loss of Andrew Luck for the final seven games to finish 8-8 in 2015. He was able to outlast general manager Ryan Grigson when owner Jim Irsay felt like he valued his coach more than the general manager back in January.
But the obstacle Pagano is about to face -- an obstacle that is Mount Everest big -- may be too much for him to overcome when it comes to his future as coach of the Colts. Their 2-5 record is their worse start under the head coach in his six years.
"We've dug ourselves a nice little hole," Pagano said Monday. "We have the opportunity to write whatever we want to write. We've written seven chapters of this book and we've got nine chapters left. It will be the tale of the tape. You've got a bunch of guys who love to play, love to win and are passionate about it and are grateful for it. And because you have that opportunity, and you don't know how long you're going to get to do this, you come to work and you prepare. ... That's what professionals do."
Those words sounded good coming out of Pagano's mouth Monday evening, but the stark reality is the more the losses mount, especially the ugly ones, the more questions surrounding Pagano's job status will come up. Irsay has never fired a coach during the middle of a season. But there's a first time for everything, especially since Irsay didn't commit to Pagano beyond this season despite the coach being under contract through the 2019 season.
Pagano, without sharing much information, said he talked with Irsay after Sunday's lethargic 27-0 loss to Jacksonville. "He was in the locker room with us," Pagano said. "He's like all of us. He wants to win; you know how Jim is. Just keep fighting. Just got to keep going."
Coaching is proving to be challenging enough for Pagano these days. The offense has only three touchdown passes, tied for the lowest franchise total through the first seven games of a season. The defense is ranked 31st in the NFL. The team's only two victories were over the league's winless teams, Cleveland and San Francisco. Now Pagano has an additional task of making sure the locker room doesn't become divided following receiver T.Y. Hilton's comments criticizing the offensive line after the group gave up 10 sacks to the Jaguars.
Pagano and Hilton talked. The coach, like the player, declined to say what was discussed in their meeting, but the damage may already be done inside the locker room, because in the past the Colts have been a team that managed to avoid having any drama become public.
"Make no excuses, it's hard right now," Pagano said. "We're not where we want to be. The good news is we've got nine weeks left and guys are straining, guys are trying really hard. So we've just got to keep working."
In years past, the Colts have often been able to lean on the AFC South to help them get some victories. Things have changed. They're 0-2 in a division in which every team -- minus Indianapolis -- is better than in previous seasons. Three of the Colts' next five games are against division opponents.
"When you're a team, if you don't stay together, it's going to be that,” running back Frank Gore said. "It's going to be over. So all the vets and all the guys who make the plays, the guys the young guys look up to, we got to keep it together. Now we're on to Cincinnati."