There is something special about this team, just like there was something special about last year’s Colts team. It’s about faith. It’s about belief. It’s about unwavering resolve. And, oh yeah, it’s about talent.
Everybody in every NFL locker room talks about it, but very few live it the way the tough-minded Colts have lived it the past two seasons.
With Sunday’s 34-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, the Colts did something we couldn’t have begun to imagine as they were going through the 2-14 mess two-plus seasons ago: They established themselves as Super Bowl contenders.
Legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
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Right there with the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints, the other three teams who’ve sprinted out of the gate this season and figure to be major players in January and beyond.
Would it surprise anybody if the Colts and Seahawks faced off in February in the snowy, windy Meadowlands?
In many ways, this game redefined who the Colts are, who they have been since Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson took over. This game brought them to another level in the public estimation, even if they had to hang on for dear life to get it done.
A lot of national folks saw last year’s Colts and saw a fluke, a team that won games despite its humble talent level, a team that overachieved as it played with its recovering head coach in its heart. Those same folks thought the Colts would regress, that the same esprit d’corps would be vanquished, and they would tumble to 8-8 or worse.
But it’s not happening.
They are still writing the same script. Still making magic in the fourth quarter. Still defying the odds. They are not, after all, a one-year wonder. They are a team – if they stay reasonably healthy – that can win the whole thing in just the second year of rebuilding.
“Character, resiliency, toughness, grit, never quiet, belief, faith,’’ Pagano said. “I don’t know what else I can say, other than these guys, we got something special.’’
After they fell behind 12-0 during a first quarter that was putrid in all three phases of the game – dropped passes, a blocked punt and an abject lack of defensive resistance — safety Antoine Bethea called the team together on the Colts sideline.
He was hot. Really hot.
“There were a couple of expletives in there,’’ Reggie Wayne said with a smile. “Basically, he told us all to wake up.’’
It starts, as it always starts, with the quarterback. The vocal minority can continue to pine all it wants for Peyton Manning, who’s having another MVP season, but the Colts have precisely the man they need right now in Andrew Luck. (Seriously, stop sending me tweets and emails every time Manning has a big game, which is virtually every week. The Colts have moved on. And they’ve moved on with a young guy who has a chance to be one of the game’s all-time greats).
Luck’s numbers don’t always jump off the page – through much of the game, he was being outplayed by the equally electric Russell Wilson – but in the fourth quarter of a massive game, there’s nobody else you want behind center. He’s played 21 games in his short career. He’s led nine come-from-behind victories.
“He just wills this team to victory,’’ Pagano said. “He’s unbelievable.’’
After the game, everybody in the locker room was talking about boxing, which was nice to hear in these days of MMA and the like. They talked about going 15 rounds, which used to be the length of championship fights. They talked about body punches and hay makers.
This was Hagler-Hearns. This was Pryor-Arguello. This was the best game of the week, and figures to be remembered as one of the best games of the NFL season.
“I’d say Ali-Frazier, but that’s kind of cliché,’’ Wayne said.
It’s said in boxing that the plan goes out the window the first time a boxer gets punched in the nose. But that’s not the case with the Colts. They get hit in the face and come out swinging.
They all fought: from Donald Brown or Trent Richardson, whose late 10-yard run established his worth to this team. From T.Y. Hilton to the eternally valuable Wayne. From Freeman to Darius Butler. From Lawrence Guy (who?) to Delano Howell. From Pagano, who called for the key challenge, to Pep Hamilton, who gets better with every game.
And on and on and on.
They wobbled, but they never took a knee. Even after a first half when they ran for just 29 yards, they kept pounding, kept sending Richardson and Brown up the gut, ultimately finishing with 109 yards on the ground.
“We came in and made the decision we were going to draw a line in the sand,’’ Pagano said. “We said, `Hey, look, we’re going to run the football.’ ”
After this, it’s fair to dream big. The Colts aren’t just a cute, heartfelt story of a team playing for its ailing head coach. They are good, really, really good, capable of all kinds of greatness.