The Indianapolis Colts, against nearly all preseason odds, have secured perhaps one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds in NFL history.
The Colts, who in 2011 endured a woeful 2-14 campaign and subsequently cleaned house to make way for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, clinched a Wild Card berth in the AFC playoffs Sunday with their 10th win of the 2012 season, a rather ugly 20-13 triumph against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
While he wasn’t pretty for much of the contest, Luck set all sorts of records with the win, including breaking Cam Newton’s single-season rookie passing yardage mark and tying the record of seven game-winning drives in a single season.
Indianapolis wraps up the regular season against the Houston Texans next Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium, and coach Chuck Pagano, who has missed each game since Week 3 while successfully undergoing treatment for leukemia, is slated to return to his post on the sidelines.
As previously mentioned, the Colts won ugly. The offense couldn’t get going against a spirited Kansas City pass rush until late in the game when Luck completed six-of-six passes, one of them a seven-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 4:08 remaining. Luck previously had missed 10 straight attempts, though his receivers did let him down a bit with several drops.
Defensively, Indy gave up a lot of yards; the Chiefs racked up 507 total yards, a staggering 352 of them on the ground. However, other than an 86-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles to open the second half, Kansas City couldn’t finish. Despite the yardage it surrendered, the Colts’ defense came up big when it absolutely had to, forcing three turnovers (one a pick-six early in the game) and making a clutch fourth-and-short stop that set up the game-winning drive.
And back to the playoffs the Colts go. It’s their 12th appearance in the postseason in 14 seasons, but their first in that span without Peyton Manning. It’s remarkable given everything about this team and what it’s been through. On paper the Colts probably would rank near the bottom of the league in terms of overall talent. Add the absence of a head coach to a battle with cancer (Pagano’s story is truly uplifting), and no one would have blamed the Colts if they had won four or so games this season.
But as Pagano so impressively stated in addressing the team after its mid-season victory against Miami, these players decided to live in a “vision” instead of in circumstances, just as he had chosen to do with regards to his illness. Offensive coordinator and interim coach Bruce Arians held the club together for Pagano and kept that message embedded in the brains of the players.
Led by their incredibly resilient rookie quarterback, the Colts refused to mail it in, never losing back-to-back games and pulling off a pair of improbable comebacks at home against Green Bay and at Detroit.
And now, with the Colts’ 10th win of 2012, what better a vision than this: Pagano and his team, after everything each has been through, charging together into the playoffs.