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The Journal Gazette

  • Chuck Pagano coached his last Colts game Sunday, a victory over the Texans.

  • Associated Press photos The Indianapolis Colts’ Marlon Mack scores on a 1-yard touchdown run during the second half Sunday against the Houston Texans. The Colts won to end their six-game losing streak.

Monday, January 01, 2018 1:00 am

Indianapolis 22 Houston 13

Pagano fired after season finale

Colts top Texans but miss playoffs 3rd year in row

MICHAEL MAROT | Associated Press

Playoff picture

Wild card matchups

AFC

Saturday, 4:35 p.m.

Tennessee at Kansas City

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Buffalo at Jacksonville

NFC

Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

Atlanta at LA Rams

Sunday, 4:40 p.m.

Carolina at New Orleans

INDIANAPOLIS – First, Chuck Pagano lost Andrew Luck. Then the Indianapolis Colts started losing games.

And now it has cost him a job.

Six years after convincing team owner Jim Irsay he could lead the Colts to a Super Bowl, and two years after convincing the team owner to give him a surprise contract extension, Pagano was fired Sunday less than two hours after the Colts' beat Houston 22-13 in their season finale.

The win ended a six-game losing streak but couldn't cloak the fact Indy missed the playoffs three consecutive years, the first time that has happened since a seven-year drought from 1988 to '94, or finished with its first losing record in six years.

“Chuck Pagano provided Colts fans with many exciting wins and memories as head coach of the Colts,” Irsay said in the statement. “Throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, he impacted the lives of the players he coached, those who he worked with in the organization and Colts fans across the globe. Chuck's first season was one of the more inspirational stories in NFL history as he courageously battled and overcame leukemia. As a result, his CHUCKSTRONG Foundation has raised millions for cancer research. We are thankful for Chuck's contributions to our franchise and community and we wish him, Tina and the entire Pagano family nothing but the best moving forward.”

It was the worst kept secret in town.

Almost from the moment the Colts (4-12) were eliminated from playoff contention, speculation ramped up about Pagano's ouster being only a matter of time.

Even Pagano hinted at the move Wednesday when he referred to Sunday's game as the “last rodeo.”

And before his postgame meeting with Irsay, Pagano sounded more resigned to his fate than he did either of the last two years when his job status also was tenuous.

“Call me crazy, but I'm a believer to the core. You know, I don't know what tomorrow brings. I don't know what the next hour brings,” Pagano said. “But I do know I'm very grateful to Jim Irsay and to the Irsay family. His unwavering commitment is second to none in football, and he's given us everything we needed to be successful. And I'm very grateful for the opportunity he gave me.”

Pagano wasn't entirely at fault for this season's results.

The early successes and steady decline during Pagano's tenure coincided perfectly tandem with Luck's health.

When Luck started every game during his first three seasons, the Colts won 11 games each year, reached the playoffs three times and advanced one step deeper in the postseason each year.

When the injuries struck, Indy crashed. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback missed 26 of 48 games since 2015, and the result was consecutive 8-8 finishes before this season's (4-12) debacle, during which Luck never took a snap.

But to an owner who has grown accustomed to playing games deep into January, Luck's absence wasn't enough of a reason to give Pagano yet another chance – especially after essentially putting Pagano on notice last January that he expected a playoff appearance after firing general manager Ryan Grigson.

“He (Irsay) is like all of us. He wants to win,” Pagano said in October after the Colts were shut out for the first time since 1993.