INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano never asked his team to win Sunday's season finale for him.
They did it anyway — and he lost his job anyway.
With a dismal season drawing to a close and Pagano's fate seemingly decided, Jacoby Brissett threw for one touchdown, Marlon Mack ran for another and Adam Vinatieri made two field goals to send their coach out with one last victory celebration, 22-13 over Houston.
"I was eavesdropping a bit and he hit it right on the head, those five minutes in the locker room was just the best Christmas gift, New Year's gift," Brissett said. "You see the smiles and the feeling of finally finishing. After the game, Chuck gave us one of the greatest speeches I ever heard. He said no matter what grade you get, from 'A' to 'F,' you don't get an 'I.'"
Less than two hours later, he was out of a job.
It was an emotional ending to a challenging season.
Seventeen players, including Andrew Luck, finished the year on injured reserve. The Colts (4-12) blew seven second-half leads, missed the playoffs for the third straight year and finished with their first losing record since 2011.
Now comes the hard part — coping with changes.
Before the official announcement, Pagano thanked team owner Jim Irsay for giving him a chance to be a head coach, and his players for continuing to play hard. He said he enjoyed working with general manager Chris Ballard and even thanked reporters.
"We fell short, I fell short," Pagano said. "We didn't meet our goals and I'm sorry that we didn't, we haven't hoisted that thing (the Lombardi Trophy) yet. I'll continue to have faith in our players that will happen at some point for this organization."
Houston's plight has been equally bad.
The Texans (4-12) finished with six straight losses.
Less than an hour after the game, general manager Rick Smith announced he would take an immediate leave of absence to help his wife, who is battling breast cancer. And Houston can't even take solace in getting a high draft pick because it doesn't have a first- or second-rounder.
A dull season finale didn't help matters.
Brissett threw a 6-yard TD pass to Jack Doyle on the first play of the second quarter for Indy's first score, and the Colts took the lead for good when Mack scored on a 2-yard plunge midway through the third quarter.
All the Texans could muster were two long first-half field goals and a 2-yard TD run from Alfred Blue in the second quarter to take a 13-7 halftime lead. But the offense gave away two points on a safety early in the fourth quarter and managed only two first downs and 29 total yards in the second half.
"I don't want to go down that road," coach Bill O'Brien said when asked about his job status. "I just want to reflect on this one, think about improvements that need to be made and go from there."
Pagano spent part of the pregame signing autographs for fans. But television cameras also caught him hugging and talking to the father of Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry, who made his NFL debut last week after fighting cancer.
Back in 2012 when Pagano was battling leukemia, Texans running back Arian Foster celebrated a TD run by tapping the #Chuckstrong sign in the end zone.
PUSHING AND SHOVING
Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton and Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph sure didn't think it was a meaningless game.
Following a play early in the third quarter, the two got into a pushing and shoving match and at least one punch appeared to be thrown. The officials called offsetting personal fouls, but nobody was ejected.
Frank Gore needed 139 yards rushing for his second straight 1,000-yard season. The Colts gave him a steady diet of carries, and when he limped off the field early in the fourth quarter after a short run, the fans gave him a rousing ovation. He returned later and finished with 24 carries for 100 yards.
But at age 34 and in the final year of his current contract, the Colts clearly wanted to give him a fond farewell — if doesn't return next season.
Texans: Receiver DeAndre Hopkins (calf) missed the first game of his NFL career, leaving four catches short of his second 100-reception season. Houston took another hit when receiver Will Fuller V departed with a left knee injury on the Texans' first offensive series. Fuller did not return.
Colts: Indy played without right tackle Denzelle Good (knee) and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (ankle). It lost safety Kenny Moore in the first half (concussion) and he did not return.