Colts on verge of collapse as big offseason changes loom

Will head coach Chuck Pagano be around next season? It's not looking good.

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Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano recently started carrying a poker chip to reflect the Colts were "all-in" for the home stretch of the regular season.

The prop couldn’t help keep Pagano’s team from going bust.

In a game to determine the AFC South frontrunner, the Colts came up craps Sunday with a 16-10 home loss to Houston.

Brandon Weeden — yes, Brandon Weeden — was forced to fill in for the Texans at quarterback Sunday when T.J. Yates suffered what is being reported as a serious knee injury just before halftime. Yates was replacing Brian Hoyer, who is in the NFL’s concussion protocol program.

To his credit, Weeden accomplished what he couldn’t get done in Dallas earlier this season by giving the Texans a lift despite having only spent a month with Houston since being claimed off waivers. Weeden guided the Texans to all of their points and threw the go-ahead eight-yard touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong early in the fourth quarter.

The Texans then leaned on a defense that is good enough to carry the load despite the club being dealt a bad hand at quarterback. The Colts didn’t have that luxury.

Matt Hasselbeck, who entered the game with sore ribs that made breathing hurt let along defensive hits, was knocked out for a stretch of the fourth quarter when clobbered by Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Hasselbeck returned on the next series with a chance to put the Colts in position for the game-tying field goal but wide receiver Griff Whalen — the goat from the botched "swinging-gate" play that helped doom Indianapolis against New England earlier this season — committed another huge gaffe by fumbling after his catch. Kareem Jackson’s long return put Houston in position for a third Nick Novak field goal.

Hasselbeck sealed the Colts’ fate shortly thereafter with an ill-advised downfield heave that was intercepted by cornerback A.J. Bouye, clinching Houston’s first win in Indianapolis in franchise history after 13 failed trips.

NFL WEEK 17

The Texans (7-7) now control their own playoff destiny and will clinch the division crown with victories in the final two games at Tennessee (3-11) and home against Jacksonville (5-9). The Colts (6-8) will be eliminated from contention if they lose next Sunday at Miami and Houston beats the Titans, which could be without quarterback Marcus Mariota after he hurt his knee in Sunday’s 33-17 loss to New England.

Indianapolis will likely play the Dolphins without the services of star quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed his seventh game of the season as he continues to recover from a lacerated kidney. Hasselbeck’s status could be in question as well after the beating he took from the Texans. Journeyman Charlie Whitehurst would be pushed into the starting lineup with Hasselbeck out.

Even if the Colts should somehow salvage a fourth straight AFC South title, major offseason change appears inevitable. Pagano is in the final year of his contract and neither side appears interested in extending their marriage. General manager Ryan Grigson also could be on the outs after another slew of lackluster offseason signings. Two of Grigson’s biggest acquisitions — running back Frank Gore and ex-Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson — continued disappointing campaigns by making little impact in the Colts’ biggest game of the season. The offensive line and pass rush, which were obvious weaknesses from last year’s team, must be addressed in 2016 far better than what Grigson did.

After reaching the AFC Championship Game last season, there was hope in Indianapolis that the Colts could take the next step into Super Bowl 50. But from opening 0-2 to Luck’s struggles when healthy that contributed to the November firing of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Indianapolis never looked like championship material.

The only thing that’s left now for the 2015 Colts now is folding for good. That moment isn’t far off after what the Texans accomplished at Lucas Oil Stadium.