KRAVITZ: Another gloomy result for the doomed Colts – but at least they have Gore’s run for history

Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore (23) runs past Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (44) for a short gain during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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Bob Kravitz

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WTHR) - Frank Gore sat quietly at his locker after the game, dutifully cutting the tape off his cleats, surveying the wreckage of yet another season gone terribly wrong. He then eyed his next-door neighbor, Marlon Mack, and under his breath, muttered a torrent of expletives. “[Bleep],’’ he said. “This [bleeping] sucks. [Bleep].’’

The Colts are now officially losers, falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-10, ensuring just their second losing season in 15 years. Six years ago, they promised to “build the monster,’’ but now, all they’ve built is one of the NFL’s most inept teams, a team that has just one quarter left in this lost season, which coincides with the final quarter of Chuck Pagano’s head coaching career in Indianapolis. If you’re still engaged, you saw it: They couldn’t score. They threw interceptions. They couldn’t get off the field on third downs. After winning 16 straight divisional games, they have now been dominated twice this season by the former dregs of the division and even the league. It’s the cycle of life in the NFL.

And yet, here is Gore, moving past Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson for fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, and you can’t help but feel like this graceful pro, this future Hall of Famer, deserves so much better than this. We are not here to litigate the question of whether he belongs in Canton someday; to me, that is an absolute no-brainer. We are only here to sing his praises, to suggest that if everybody on this team had Gore’s will and desire and professionalism, the Colts would not be sitting here at 3-9.

“It’s a blessing,’’ Gore said when he was asked about the company he keeps atop the all-time rushing list. “I respect all the guys I passed, especially LT [Tomlinson]. I remember when I first came into the league, we played against him in the preseason. I was like a little kid when I met him. I respect the way he played the game.

“When you look back on my career coming out of college with all the ups and downs, there were a lot of doubters who thought I wouldn’t be here long. I’m still here and still competing. My name is getting mentioned with a lot of great guys. Like I said, that’s a blessing.’’

This is not what Gore signed up for when he arrived as a free agent after the Colts’ AFC Championship Game appearance against the Patriots. He signed up to play for a team that was one player away from taking Gore to his second Super Bowl, the first coming with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. And then it happened: 8-8, 8-8 and now 3-9 with no appreciable sign that it’s going to improve in short order. And, of course, there were all the injuries to franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. Consider that Gore will finish his time with the Colts having played just 23 games with Luck. Twenty-three of a possible 48, not including possible playoff games.

“Jacoby [Brissett] has played well for us, don’t get me wrong,’’ Gore said. “But we’re a different team with number 12.’’

Just don’t expect Gore to ask for any sympathy as his last season with the Colts slogs on without any hope. Nobody said sports were fair. Remember, Dan Marino never returned to the Super Bowl after his rookie year.

“It’s tough, man,’’ Gore said. “You play this game, you play to win – especially when you get up in age. You don’t know how much time you’ve got left…But I’m just going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep my young boy up [Marlon Mack], show him the right way to be successful in this league’

Gore had a productive game, rushing 13 times for 61 yards, a healthy 4.7 average, but right now, he’s a brilliant musician in a junior-high-school garage band. Jacoby Brissett, bless him, he seems to be regressing, finishing with a 56.9 passer rating Sunday. The defense, which had shown some recent signs of improvement, got ripped, especially in the passing game, looking helpless against Blake Bortles. The Jaguars were 9-of-15 on third down conversions, an unmentionable number of those coming on third-and-long. Pass rush? Please. One sack by Tarell Basham, and that’s it.

Think Bortles loves the Colts? He’s thrown for more than 300 yards twice this season – both of those games coming against Indy. In his last five games against the Colts, four of them victories, he’s completed 104-of-163 passes for 1,687 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions, a 116.8 quarterback rating. Those are Ben Roethlisberger-type numbers.

After the game, Pagano, who has flat run out of ways to respond to questions – and honestly, we’ve run out of questions to ask -- suggested that if the Colts keep grinding, keep working, keep being pros, they’ll find a way to win some more games this season.

“What are you going to do – lay down?’’ he said. “…[It’s about] the name on the back of your jersey and the decal on your helmet. At the end of the day, it isn’t about money and cars and this, that and the other. It’s about your name. It’s about that decal that you wear on the side of your helmet. It’s about pride and doing things the right way and handling yourself like a pro and like a man. That’s what every one of those guys will do.’’

He knows he’s done in a month’s time. We all know it. Pagano and his staff will grind, but come Black Monday, a lot of coaches and their families will have their lives turned upside-down. It’s what you sign up for, sure, and the job pays well, but that doesn’t make it any easier, especially for coaches who have kids in school.

At least there’s Gore. At least there’s his run through history. Think about his career, how he began with so many serious injuries, only to emerge as one of the greatest running backs in history. Look at the four names above him on the rushing list: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin. The man has had a special career, an amazing career that includes his 103-game consecutive-starts mark. Like Pagano, he knows he won’t be a Colt next season, but he’s not necessarily ready to hang up the cleats – assuming somebody wants him next season.

How sweet would it be to go out like Bettis, who won a Super Bowl his final season?

In the gloom, he’s been one of the rare beacons of light. The Colts have another future Hall of Famer on their roster, one to go along with Adam Vinatieri. It’s just too bad he will have to go out this way, on a going-nowhere team, muttering expletives on his way out the door.

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