The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The cast has changed for the Indianapolis Colts since their iconic playoff battles with the New England Patriots during the Manning era, but the same problems the Colts had then rose up again on Saturday night.
Problems with run defense? Check. New England ran for 234 yards and six touchdowns on a 5.1 yards-per-carry average.
Problems with turnovers? Check. Andrew Luck threw four interceptions, tying a season high.
A lack of support for the quarterback? Check and double check. Da'Rick Rogers had an awful game, dropping several passes, the running backs ran for just 3.2 yards per carry and the defense kept the Colts in a hole all game.
No help from the referees? They weren't the reason the Colts lost, but several missed calls severely hurt the Colts' comeback chances, including egregious contact downfield and a missed tripping call.
Then there were the issues that the current Colts have had all season.
Starting slowly? The Colts were down 14 just eight minutes into the game.
Conservative coaching? The Colts kicked two awful field goals that should have been fourth-down attempts, including one right on the goal line.
Stubborn offensive philosophy? Stanley Havili and Trent Richardson continued to get playing time, despite the fact that the Colts' spread offense was what got them this far.
A lack of playmaking on defense? The Colts didn't force a single turnover.
In the end, it was the same old, same old for the Colts in New England.
The question now is, can the Colts learn from it as they move forward into a future that, despite tonight's loss, is bright? That depends on the same question that has lingered over the Colts' facility for the last two years: Will the Colts insist on trying to build a run-first offensive philosophy or take advantage of their quarterback's gifts by surrounding him with talent?
The best offense for Indianapolis has always been Andrew Luck. When Luck was given the slightest bit of time and the Colts opened up the offense for him, he was sublime, finding open receivers down the field for big gains. When Stanley Havili came in the game and the Colts tried to run the ball multiple times in a row, the offense stagnated.
Luck certainly has room for improvement, and he stared down receivers on his first two interceptions, but with the lack of receiving talent and a sieve of an offensive line, he's also forced to try to do to much. It doesn't help that the Colts get into poor situations too often due to a stubborn commitment to "the process."
These aren't new problems. They've been occurring all season, but with improvement over the last five weeks, it seemed that the coaching staff was learning. Unfortunately, they went back to old habits against New England.
Then there's the defensive side of the ball, which is burdened with too many overpaid, mediocre players due to an inefficient 2014 free-agent period. Ricky Jean Francois, Erik Walden, LaRon Landry, Aubrayo Franklin and Greg Toler all have their merits, but they also have real issues.
The Colts spent top dollar on players in the offseason in order to be able to stop the run (Toler was really the only player signed who wasn't a run specialist, and he was injury prone), and yet lost the divisional playoff game by more than 20 points precisely because they were terrible in run defense (as they have been all season).
The Colts have some talent on defense, but it's an inconsistent unit that struggles against teams with good quarterbacks. The AFC South is one thing, but that defense won't cut it in the playoffs.
The saving grace in all this is Andrew Luck. The Colts might have had decade-old issues plague them tonight, but they also have one positive similarity: They have one special quarterback to lean on. That is why a depressing loss in New England won't diminish the hope that Colts fans have.
They saw Luck make throws like this:
They saw him climb the pocket better than any quarterback in the game, never get flustered and carry a below-average offensive unit to the divisional round of the playoffs. Again, Luck has weaknesses, and they showed up Saturday, but he's the future for Indianapolis.
The only question that remains is how the Colts will build a team around him. That's what will determine whether Indianapolis becomes a true Super Bowl-contending team again.
Can Chuck Pagano build an above-average defense? Can Pep Hamilton call an explosive offense that takes advantage of Luck's talent? Can the Colts learn from poor situational decisions and be more effective in the future?
The reality is that while some will overreact to this loss, it's extremely unlikely that any significant Colts executives, coaches or players will lose their jobs going into 2014. They'll have another chance at team-building in the 2014 offseason, another chance at fine-tuning a playbook and another chance at a playoff run next winter.
Hopefully they'll use it wisely.
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