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Loss not end of magic year; Colts still have much to play for

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So depressingly lopsided was the Colts’ loss at New England, I swear I spotted Russ Francis blocking for Sam “Bam” Cunningham late in the game for the Patriots.

You have to journey miles into the depth chart to reach the 1970s. Furthermore, you have to play a pretty lousy game for Colts fans to long, even if only for a misguided split-second, for the good old days of — gulp! — last season.

Yet to be left entirely deflated by three quarters of dreadful football would be a disservice to what Indianapolis has accomplished since the good ship Polian-Manning set sail.

Seriously. Let’s recap, shall we:

Since January, there has been a new general manager, head coach, starting quarterback and much, much more. Had tight end Coby Fleener not been on injured reserve against New England, there would have been six rookies factoring greatly into what Indianapolis was doing offensively.

Many times this season there have been five, including Sunday’s loss when Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and LaVon Brazill were attempting to move the chains. Oh, and left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the undisputed anchor to the offensive line and the player responsible for protecting Luck’s blind side, is in his second NFL season.

Then there’s that not-so-little matter of head coach Chuck Pagano’s ongoing battle against leukemia.

String these on- and off-field factors together in most franchises and they’re turning the corner toward December with one or two victories. Or none at all. The Colts are 6-4 and still very much in the hunt for a playoff berth that not a single soul outside their locker room thought possible a few months ago.

In other words, back away from the ledge, Colts fans. Yes, watching your team get crushed by pretty boy Brady and his smug head coach only a few yards from one of professional sports’ most obnoxious fan bases stunk on too many levels to count.

You hated it. I hated it. Probably most of the nation tired of all things New England — whether it’s the Red Sox, Celtics or the taste of clam chowder — hated it. But there’s nothing any of us can do except see the potential in these final six regular-season games.

The bad news is the Colts still have their annual two games against the 9-1 Texans to play. Indianapolis is at Houston on Dec. 16 and at home against the Texans two weeks later. Good news is that the other four opponents (Buffalo, Detroit, Tennessee and Kansas City) are currently a combined 13-27.

Could we actually be looking at a 10-6 or 9-7 ballclub by season’s end? Absolutely. And with a break or two and some superb play down the stretch by an incredibly young squad, maybe even 11-5.

Hopefully instead of removing all traces of wind from the Colts’ sail, losing at New England the way they did has everyone in that locker room breathing fire from both nostrils.

Sunday’s home game against the Bills will reveal plenty about the team’s resiliency. Pass this test, and the next few weeks could prove interesting indeed.

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