The Colts are trying to tame a dumpster fire they started themselves.
Pagano provided an impressive start during his first three seasons as the team's head coach, but the organization has regressed during the following three.
Sunday's 27-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium should be the final straw. The Colts have been outscored by a league-worst 103 points. Indianapolis' two wins came against franchises with a combined 0-14 record.
The Jaguars became the first team to shut out the Colts since 1993—which ended the league's third-longest streak, per the Indianapolis Star's Nat Newell:
Nat Newell @NatJNewell
If the Colts are shutout, it will end the third-longest shutout-less streak in NFL history. @pfref https://t.co/J4QTNVqpkr2017-10-22 19:29:53
Excuses can and will be made.
After all, Andrew Luck's injury limited what the Colts could achieve this season. The quarterback's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery wasn't supposed to last this long. Instead, the organization shut down their $123 million signal-caller for another week when he experienced some soreness.
"Every player is different, every rehab is different, every surgery is different—and that's why we haven't put a timeline on this," general manager Chris Ballard said, per NFL.com's Marc Sessler. "Every guy is different. And the good news is Andrew is very in-tune with his body and he's being honest with what's going on, and that's what we want, that's what we need. I don't think anyone in this room can question Andrew Luck's toughness and willingness and ability to go out and play with pain."
But injuries are a fact of NFL life, and coaches must adjust. The Colts aren't the only team with an injured franchise quarterback. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins.
Jim Caldwell, who actually made it to a Super Bowl as the Colts' coach, didn't get a mulligan in 2011 when his squad finished 2-14 with Peyton Manning out. He was fired along with the entire front office.
The level of dominance Jacksonville asserted can't be described just by looking at the lopsided score. The Colts made the Jags defense look like the 1984 Chicago Bears by surrendering 10 sacks, per NFL Research:
NFL Research @NFLResearch
The @Jaguars have 10 sacks today They are the first team with 10+ sacks in multiple games within a season since the 1984 Bears2017-10-22 19:45:00
Offensive rhythm cannot be established when the QB is on his back. As a result, anger bubbled to the surface after the contest.
"It is the offensive line, they need to block," wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said, per WISH-TV's Charlie Clifford.
Although what Hilton said was obvious, calling out teammates in such a manner is precarious because it can lead to in-fighting.
Defensively, the Colts made Blake Bortles look like an elite NFL quarterback.
Jacksonville's offense has been retooled this year with the addition of fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette. But even though he was out Sunday with an ankle injury, the Jags' ground game still averaged 5.1 yards per carry and Bortles managed 330 passing yards.
The Colts allowed 518 yards to an offense that ranked 18th overall coming into the meeting.
Ballard augmented the defense's lack of speed and athleticism this offseason. Malik Hooker, Jabaal Sheard, John Simon and Jonathan Hankins served as the team's marquee additions. Yet the group isn't playing any better today than it did a year ago, and is allowing opponents 425.4 yards per game.
"When you get your ass knocked down, you get up off the mat and fight, period," Pagano said, per Newell.
No one can deny Pagano's toughness, commitment or likeability. Everyone rooted for him when he battled leukemia in 2012.
But the NFL is a "What have you done for me lately?" league.
The Colts didn't manage consecutive wins in 2016, and they're not competitive at the moment. A couple wins against the league's dregs don't account for anything.
Owner Jim Irsay may be reticent to fire Pagano after handing him a four-year contract extension in January of last year. Even if Irsay considers doing so during the Week 11 bye, it'll be too late.
At 2-5 overall, the Colts remain within striking distance of the AFC South-leading Jaguars and Tennessee Titans (both 4-3).
The Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers are next on the docket. Each of those will be difficult contests before the bye, but the Colts must maintain or lessen their current distance between those teams atop the AFC South. This is especially important because Indianapolis' first two games after the bye are against the Titans and Jags.
Poor play, potential locker room discord and a head coach not tied to his general manager (Irsay hired Pagano) all signal change on the horizon.
The team desperately needs a spark, and Pagano can't provide one. His mismanagement of game-day situations and inability to field an inspired or even competitive roster have the front office already looking toward other options.
According to the Boston Globe's Ben Volin, Ballard has been picking Jacoby Brissett's brain about his offensive coordinator in New England, Josh McDaniels. Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub is another possibility, per Volin.
The Colts feature an experienced staff with two former NFL head coaches on the payroll. Both Rob Chudzinski and Joe Philbin are capable of taking over in the short term.
Indianapolis needs a new vision. Pagano got his chance, and he's failed for years now. When the general manager is already looking toward other options, there's absolutely no reason to stay the current course.