News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 11, 2012

Colts could clinch a wild-card berth this weekend

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Can anyone explain how the Indianapolis Colts have managed to string together a 9-4 National Football League record this season?

The Colts have rebounded from a 2-14 record last year, which forced a massive roster reboot along with major changes on the coaching staff and in the front office.

Indianapolis goes into this week’s AFC South game at Houston with a chance to clinch a wild-card playoff berth.

With a win over the Texans — or losses by either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati — the Colts will find themselves back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.

Who would have believed it at the beginning of the season? Most observers had already penciled in Indianapolis for another sub-.500 season.

But the Colts have made a quick recovery with hopes of surprising even more people along the way.

“It all started with the foundation that [coach] Chuck [Pagano] put in — trust, loyalty and respect. And then the bonding of the football team was [Pagano’s] illness. The guys rallied to make sure that they extended this season until he gets back. And then the snowball effect,” interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Monday.

“But when teams are really close and they have a purpose, you’ll see those type of locker rooms. Guys are always hanging together. They’ll be [at Colts headquarters] on days when they don’t have to. And that’s the great thing. That word chemistry? I think it’s overused some times. But this team obviously has a caring for each other.”

Pagano is slated to return to the sidelines in time for the Dec. 30 regular-season home finale with Houston. Depending on how his recovery from leukemia treatments continues to progress, he might be back sooner.

The coach stopped by his office Monday morning, just as he has done for most of the season during his absence from the sidelines.

He has attended most of the team’s home games, including the Colts’ 27-23 come-from-behind win over Tennessee, and watched from the press box.

“He looks great. He picked up some film and got his iPad re-charged and loaded up. He looked really good,” Arians said.

n Injury news — As of Monday afternoon, there were no updates on any of the Colts who left Sunday’s game with Tennessee due to injuries.

Running back Delone Carter (ankle), fullback Robert Hughes (knee), inside linebacker Kavell Conner (hamstring), offensive tackle Winston Justice (biceps) and center Samson Satele (ankle) were all sidelined and did not return.

Safety Tom Zbikowski (knee), running back Donald Brown (ankle) and offensive guard Joe Reitz (head) did not  suit up for the Titans game.

“Really nothing new as far as injuries. We’re gathering all the information, some scans and stuff, but we’ll have to wait until Wednesday to make any announcements as far as who is in and who is out and where we’re heading,” Arians said.

n Reviewing the Tennessee win — After the win over the Titans, the Colts prepare for Sunday’s big divisional clash with Houston.

“I thought it was a great team win. I think it was a good wakeup call for us to learn that we can’t start slow like that and expect to beat anybody,” Arians said. “It’s going to be a big week for us and we’ll look forward to this challenge we’ve got coming up and learning from last week’s mistakes and getting them corrected and seeing what healthy bodies we have to go to Houston.”

n Getting off to a good start — The Colts have been slow starters for most of the season, which has helped to contribute in road losses to Chicago, New England and the New York Jets. Indianapolis can’t afford a repeat performance against the Texans this week.

“I thought when I watched us go out for warmups [prior to the Tennessee game], we were more than ready. Like I said, if you can ever figure that one out, we can get rich, when a team is ready and when they’re not,” Arians said.

“We just played flat [in the first half of the Titans game]. We picked up the emotion and the energy level at halftime and executed on all sides better and we were able to win the ballgame.”

Should the Colts earn their way into the postseason, they’ll be facing a quality team like Houston. The Indianapolis coaching staff would like to use this week as a sort of preview for what it takes to prepare for a playoff-quality opponent.

“It will be really good for us to learn how to prepare, stay within that moment of the process and then go and play a big game on the road that may or may not decide whether we play at home or on the road. [in the playoffs],” Arians said.