Colts’ loss to Chiefs doesn’t diminish extraordinary 2018 campaign

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts were eliminated in blowout fashion by a much better Kansas City Chiefs team at Arrowhead on Saturday.

Winners of 10 out of 11 heading into this game, Indianapolis just didn’t make the plays to stay close with Kansas City in what ended up being a 31-13 loss. The effort was lackluster on both sides of the ball.

Andrew Luck struggled big time. Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense couldn’t stop either Patrick Mahomes or the Chiefs’ rushing attack. It’s a bitter loss — one that will stick with first-year head coach Frank Reich and Co. for a while.

Even then, the Colts’ 2018 season has to be considered an unquestioned success. It started with Indy losing five out of the first six games and with renewed questions about whether Luck would be able to return from the shoulder injury that cost him the entire 2017 campaign.

Already known to be the Colts’ second choice as head coach behind Josh McDaniels, some were wondering whether hiring Reich was a snap decision based on a ton of underlining factors. Was he up for the task after being an assistant around the NFL for so long?

The backdrop here was real. Newish general manager Chris Ballard was tasked with rebuilding a roster that his predecessor — Ryan Grigson — failed to make into a contender. Was this going to be a top-heavy roster, led by Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton?

These questions were answered and a whole lot more during a brilliant regular season in Indianapolis.

Luck put up the best performance of an already stellar career. Indy’ rookie class — Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Darius Leonard included — showed out in a big way. Led by Marlon Mack, the Colts got balance on offense. It’s something we have not seen dating back to the Peyton Manning days.

Starting the season 1-5, there were really no expectation that these Colts would even be in playoff contention once the calendar turned to December. Instead, the team rode Luck’s stellar play and a much deeper than anticipated roster to a playoff spot and a wild-card victory over the division champion Texans.

Losing to the Chiefs in blowout fashion hurts. Seeing the product that took the field at Arrowhead magnified that even more. In no way does this mean the Colts’ 2018 season wasn’t a success.

Indianapolis took on a juggernaut with a record-breaking quarterback in one of the loudest stadiums under less-than-ideal circumstances. Sure it didn’t put up much of a fight here. That’s fine. It’s an unsavory taste that will be in the mouths of Colts players and coaches for the next several months.

That’s not the biggest takeaway here.

Instead, it’s that Frank Reich and Co. are going to be a major problem in the AFC moving forward. Luck’s performance coupled with the young talent we saw on display in 2018 tells this story.

So while Colts fans won’t take solace in a deeper-than-expected playoff run, they should know that their team will be relevant on the larger NFL stage for years to come.

Captain Luck, indeed.