Mike Beas column Jan. 22

Lockers have been emptied both at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Colts complex. Final hugs, fist bumps and offseason contact information already have been exchanged.

The 32nd season of Indianapolis Colts football is officially a wrap, the 2014 season ending with an embarrassingly loud thud courtesy of Sunday’s 45-7 loss at New England in the AFC Championship Game.

The 38-point spread, which might have been worse considering those classy Patriots were still chucking spirals with their air-deprived footballs well into the fourth quarter, is the second-worst curb-stomping in the game’s 45-year history.

Good thing Buffalo throttled the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3 in the 1991 AFC finale, or this would have been even more humiliating.

If that’s possible.

Still, for a franchise forced to play every one of its 19 games without the only legitimate pass rusher it has in six-time Pro Bowl selection Robert Mathis, finishing one step from Super Bowl XLIX should be viewed as an accomplishment.

The Colts lost hard-running Vick Ballard for the season way back in training camp and Ahmad Bradshaw two days after the first demeaning loss to New England — this one in Week 10.

Constant shuffling of the offensive line. The experiment gone sour known as Trent Richardson.

An ineffective No. 87 who looked like an old Reggie Wayne rather than the Reggie Wayne of old while hauling in 64 receptions (fourth-lowest in his brilliant 14-year Colts career) for 779 yards (fourth-lowest) and two touchdowns (second-lowest).

And still — still! — Indianapolis, no doubt aided by playing in the cream-puff AFC South, found a way to make the football world sit up and take notice.

We would all feel better had Sunday’s game at least been competitive. I don’t know, say, 34-28 or 27-21. A final tally that makes us look as though we can at least make the hated Patriots perspire a little bit instead of being Bill Belichick’s personal piñata.

By losing the way the Colts did — think AMC Pacer attempting to win the Indianapolis 500 — eye rolls and head shakes of disgust are common as fans attempt to pin blame on either owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson or coach Chuck Pagano.

Viewing the glass half-full, maybe it should be whom to most credit.

Players like receiver T.Y. Hilton and tailback Boom Herron enjoyed breakout seasons. Hilton is one of five Pro Bowl choices from the Colts, along with quarterback Andrew Luck, cornerback Vontae Davis, punter Pat McAfee and timeless placekicker Adam Vinatieri.

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and safety Mike Adams are Pro Bowl alternates.

There actually are taffy-brained individuals out there who feel they can do what Grigson or Pagano do, only better, because their fantasy team is kicking tail this season.

Same sport. Different galaxy.

The Indianapolis Colts are in competent hands. The hands of men angrier than Charlie Weis’ personal trainer over how their season ended in a downpour of raindrops and points while an entire nation looked on.

Too many puzzle pieces were missing to realistically believe this franchise was about to hoist another Lombardi Trophy.

And yet the Indianapolis Colts got close. For that they should be applauded.

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.