If the Indianapolis Colts were to be given a performance appraisal — one of those corporate report cards that are far too common in America these days — they would be graded "met expectations."
Prior to the season, experts picked the Colts as either a 10-6 or 11-5 team coming off an 11-5 season that appeared to be more luck (lower case, as in fluke) than representative of excellence.
The Colts won 9-of-10 games in 2012 decided by a touchdown or less, posted seven fourth quarter comebacks, and were outscored by 30 points during the 2012 season. No team in the history of the NFL had won 11 times while being outscored. That led those who think football is nothing more than a series of probabilities to believe there would be a regression in victories in 2013.
Fortunately for Colts fans, football is played by men in pads and helmets, not actuaries with calculators.
It's true that the Colts only beat AFC South foes and the Kansas City Chiefs after the bye week which followed the season-defining 39-33 victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Late in that game future Hall of Fame wide receiver Reggie Wayne went down with a torn right ACL, and with it the Colts chances for a run to the Super Bowl.
No one knew that until Saturday night in Foxborough when the Colts season ended with the four New England Patriots interceptions that led to a 43-22 Pats win.
In the first half of the season, with injuries already a major issue, the Colts posted wins against the three teams not coached by Bill Belichick that will battle for a trip to the Super Bowl this Sunday (27-7 @ San Francisco, 34-28 vs. Seattle, and the aforementioned triumph over the Broncos).
Andrew Luck took several steps forward in his second season as he cemented his place among the very best quarterbacks and leaders in the NFL. His interceptions in year two dropped by 50 percent from 18 to nine, while throwing for the same 23 touchdowns with an offensive tool chest that was not exactly overflowing.
Running back Vick Ballard, offensive guard Donald Thomas, and tight end Dwayne Allen missed virtually the entire season, and that made Wayne's loss all the more difficult to overcome, but overcome it Luck did.
Most memorable was the 28-point second half comeback that gave Luck his first playoff win while extending the postseason one game longer than his first foray in the playoffs — the 24-9 flame-out against the Baltimore Ravens to end 2012.
Robert Mathis spent his first season out of Dwight Freeney's shadow making fans wonder what kind of sack totals he might have posted if not forced to share the bounty with his longtime defensive line mate.
The NFL leading 19.5 sacks Mathis totaled were 10th all-time for a single season, and just three fewer than Michael Strahan's all-time record of 22.5. Mathis is being mentioned as an NFL Defensive Player of the Year favorite because of the sacks and 10 forced fumbles.
Incredibly, Mathis stands as the only Pro Bowler on the Colts roster. That's alright, the Colts play for wins, not trips to play meaningless games in Hawaii.
For 31 teams, each NFL season ends with disappointment. The Colts will look back on 2013 as a year that required a mature and measured response to adversity, but ultimately ended two games too soon.
With the second biggest vat of cash under the salary cap, the Colts are in a unique position to make strides in improving their roster, and the return of the wounded should put them in a position to take yet another step forward.
Kent Sterling posts relevant sports/media news and perspective multiple times each day on kentsterling.com, and hosts "Ahead of the Curve" on 1070 TheFan each Saturday from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. with Fox 59 sports director Chris Hagan.