INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Chuck Pagano is pushing the Colts to get a grip on their most pressing problem.
Otherwise, he fears they could fumble away their postseason dream.
Less than 24 hours after putting the ball on the ground four more times at Cleveland, the Indianapolis coach calmly explained again that the Colts need a quick fix.
''We've got to get it cleaned up,'' Pagano said Monday. ''You credit the opponent for stripping the ball and making plays, but it's still no excuse. ... We've got to get it cleaned up, period.''
So far, the mistakes have not caused too much damage. Indy (9-4) has won three straight, leads the AFC South by two games and can wrap up its second straight division crown with a win Sunday over Houston (7-6).
But the Colts are testing conventional wisdom in a league where the best barometer for success is often turnover margin.
Over the past three weeks, Indy has fumbled 13 times, lost seven, and thrown three interceptions. After Sunday's games, the Colts were tied for the league lead in fumbles lost (13) and were minus-4 in the turnover margin. Only two teams have a worse turnover margin and a winning record: Kansas City (7-6) at minus-5 and NFC East co-leader Philadelphia (9-4) at minus-6.
If the trend continues, nobody understands the ramifications better than quarterback Andrew Luck.
Yes, he directed the second-largest playoff comeback in January, a 45-44 victory over the Chiefs. But the three interceptions he threw in that game helped put Indy in the 28-point hole.
The next week, at New England, Luck threw four more interceptions and the Colts, predictably, were eliminated.
Luck spent the offseason contemplating what he could do better, but lately it's looked more like last season.
Three weeks ago, against Jacksonville, Luck fumbled four times and lost two. His teammates added to the woes with two more fumbles.
Against Washington, Luck lost a fumble on the first offensive play. Indy finished the game with three fumbles, two lost, and one interception.
On Sunday, Luck threw two interceptions and fumbled two more times. The Browns recovered Luck's fumble in the end zone and scored on a 23-yard interception return.
In some ways, with a quarterback who refuses to give up on plays, Pagano acknowledges it goes with the territory.
''It's competitiveness, it's will, it's all of those things,'' he said. ''There's a ton of plays over the course of the last 2 3/4 seasons that if he (Luck) doesn't hang in there, doesn't do this or that, we don't get our touchdown.''
Luck isn't the only Colt struggling to get a handle on this problem. Indy's top receiver, T.Y. Hilton, lost his first fumble in 202 receptions against Cleveland. Daniel ''Boom'' Herron, Indy's most effective running back, lost the ball once against Jacksonville and once against Washington. Even the usually sure-handed return specialist Josh Cribbs had the ball knocked out in his former home stadium.
All came even after Pagano's continual speeches about ball security.
Injuries have certainly taken a toll on a young offensive line and could account for more pressure on Luck, and smaller running lanes.
Rookie center Jonotthan Harrison missed all but 17 plays Sunday after what Pagano described as a ''burner.'' Right guard Hugh Thornton has missed the last two games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. Thornton's replacement, Joe Reitz, was carted off the field Sunday with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is playing with a bad shoulder.
But Pagano isn't looking for excuses. He expects results over the final three games.
''If we want to achieve our No. 1 goal, we know we have to win a game on Sunday to do that, to move on and take the next step,'' Pagano said. ''But to do what we want to do, we've got to play better.''
NOTES: Pagano clarified Monday that receiver Reggie Wayne tore the triceps in his left arm when he injured his elbow against Cincinnati in October. The first time Pagano mentioned the triceps injury was during the Colts' postgame radio show Monday night. ... Pagano said doctors were still evaluating the injuries to Reitz and Harrison. Thornton is now listed as day to day, an upgrade from his previous status of week to week. ... Cornerback Vontae Davis, who missed Sunday's game, will continue to go through the league's concussion protocol this week. ... Pagano said he expects Xavier Nixon (foot) and linebacker Andy Studebaker (hamstring) to return to practice Wednesday.
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