INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chuck Pagano's backup plan worked. But the Colts didn't get the help they needed and failed to make the playoffs.
Recently signed quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley each threw one touchdown pass in the first half Sunday, and Jerrell Freeman opened the second half with a 23-yard interception return to give the Colts a season-closing 30-24 victory over Tennessee.
The Colts won a game to avoid their first losing season since 2011. They just didn't get enough help to make the playoffs and now they'll wait to find out their coach's fate.
Indy could have made the playoffs with a Houston loss — and if seven other games fell exactly the right way.
Instead, the Texans' 30-6 victory over Jacksonville ended that hope and perhaps Pagano's tenure in Indy.
"To sit there and go 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback and then to pull off, I don't know if this has ever happened before in the history of the National Football League, where you bring in two guys off the street and basically get three days to prepare these guys and go win a football game," Pagano said.
The past two weeks might be the most creative coaching Pagano has done in his four-year tenure.
Indy (8-8) needed two wins to stay in the playoff hunt and managed to get both despite using four different quarterbacks including two, Freeman and Lindley, who were signed Tuesday after spending the whole season out of the NFL.
So the coaching staff split the workload. They asked Freeman, a former first-round pick, to learn the regular offense and Lindley to figure out the two-minute drill.
Together, they made it work.
Freeman was 15 of 28 with 149 yards, one TD and one interception. Lindley was 6 of 10 with 58 yards and threw an 18-yard TD pass with the 13 seconds left in the first half to give the Colts a 20-14 lead.
But with Pagano's contract set to expire, this not just another game.
One fan held a sign that read "Chuckstrong," a phrase that was used during Pagano's battle with leukemia in 2012. Another fan used blue face paint to write the words "Chuck Stay" on his forehead.
When the game ended, several players hugged Pagano on the sideline. Pagano then jogged to the tunnel, pointing to the crowd and tapping his chest several times.
Pagano, who is 41-23 and has made three playoff appearances, is expected to meet with team owner Jim Irsay on Monday.
"Hell yeah we want (Chuck) back," safety Mike Adams said. "Given the circumstances, and how we fought, the way we came out, (Chuck) should be back."
It was another tough day for Tennessee (3-13), which lost its second straight to secure the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger left in the third quarter with an injured hand after the interception made it 27-14. Mettenberger, 0-10 as a starter, was 5 of 13 for 38 yards, ran for one TD and threw an interception.
Alex Tanney, who spent most of the season on Indy's practice squad, finished the game and threw a late TD pass.
Delanie Walker caught nine passes for 94 yards and became the first tight end in Titans history to top the 1,000-yard mark, and the ninth tight end in NFL history to catch at least 90 passes in a season.
"Obviously, I'd like to have an opportunity to sit down and talk about it," interim coach Mike Mularkey said when asked about his future with Tennessee. "I think we're very close here, and I'd like to help make that happen."
The biggest surprise was how well Freeman played in his first NFL start in 26 months.
He led the Colts to a 49-yard field goal on their opening drive and hooked up with Coby Fleener on a 57-yard TD pass for a 10-7 lead.
Then, trailing 14-13, Lindley entered. He quickly moved the Colts into scoring position and found Andre Johnson, who stretched the ball across the goal line to give Indy a 20-14 halftime lead.
Da'Norris Searcy's interception set up Mettenberger's 5-yard first-quarter TD run. Tennessee made it 14-10 when David Cobb scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal.
It just wasn't enough on an emotional day for Indy's players and coaches.
"I love this job, I love Indianapolis, I love this community, I love the fans," Pagano said. "I think back to 2012 and they didn't even know me and the way they embraced me and supported me through that, that's Hoosier hospitality at its finest. We've had a great four years. We're going to have a good time tonight and then we'll deal with tomorrow when it comes."