BALTIMORE -- The Colts' remarkable journey through one of the most emotion-packed, heart-rending seasons in recent memory has come to an end.
A year that included the release of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, the drafting of Andrew Luck as Manning's heir apparent, and the shocking cancer diagnosis for coach Chuck Pagano concluded with an underwhelming performance in the Colts' 24-9 loss to the Ravens Sunday in an AFC wild-card playoff game.
Luck could not solve a Ravens defense that had Ray Lewis back in the lineup for the first time since mid-October. Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, wound up losing to his old team in only his second game back after three rounds of chemotherapy since being diagnosed with leukemia in late September.
"The year was incredible," said team owner Jim Irsay, whose father, Robert, moved the Colts out of Baltimore after the 1983 season. "It was special and unique in so many ways. It was one of the most special seasons in Colts history and probably NFL history. We had a coach fighting for his life. We reorganized, won 11 games and went to the playoffs. We just didn't get it done today."
Luck, drafted No. 1 overall out of Stanford last April, was 28-for-54 for 288 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, setting a record for most passes by a rookie quarterback in a playoff game.
"We had our opportunities but we couldn't get it done," Luck said. "We made too many mistakes and left too many plays out there."
The Colts' situation was made even more challenging when they learned before the game that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went 9-3 as the interim head coach in Pagano's absence, would not be available because of an illness. Arians was hospitalized before the game with symptoms that included vomiting and dizziness.
Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen called the plays in Arians' place.
"Obviously, it wasn't an ideal situation, but that's not an excuse," Luck said. "It would have been great to have [Arians] here, but our attitude all year has been, 'Next man up.' "
Luck drove the field several times and put the Colts in position to score, but several drives stalled in Baltimore territory. Kicker Adam Vinatieri's three field goals accounted for all of the Colts' scoring.
Despite the loss, the Colts believe they've set the foundation for a successful future.
"I'm very, very proud of this football team, what they've overcome, what they've accomplished," Pagano said. "They went out and did it, what everyone said they couldn't do, and they refused to live in circumstances. They chose to live in vision."
Irsay believes this team will continue to be special.
"To say that our future is bright," he said, "is an understatement."