Coming so close against the team that achieved the ultimate goal continues to drive Pagano.
"Ultimate goal is always a world championship," the head coach said Sunday at AU. "First and foremost, the easiest way to get into the (postseason) dance is to win your division. Our first goal is, No. 1, win the (AFC) South. We got to try to take over the South.
"Houston's had it the last two years. This team and this organization has dominated the South for years and years and years, and now we got to get it back."
Toward that end, general manager Ryan Grigson and his staff have added 37 new faces — including Heyward-Bey.
The additions were mainly focused on bolstering the offensive and
defensive lines in attempt to improve the running game and the rush defense. But there is new talent at nearly every level on offense and defense.
And even the new guys feel the pain of last season's finish.
"They lost to my hometown team in the playoffs," Heyward-Bey said. "Eventhough I wasn't a part of it, I know what it's like losing. So it's time to go out there and work and try to get past that point."
As that work begins, Indianapolis again finds itself at odds with some outside expectations.
There's an undercurrent of distrust running through many national
predictions. A belief that perhaps last season's success was more the result of a confluence of events — Pagano's battle for his life rallying the team, young players performing beyond their years — than a sustainable formula for success.
Pagano said the goal for this year's team is to put everything from last season — the good and the bad — behind it. That's the only way to move forward.