Colts continue to excel when stakes become most perilous
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts have taken their share of punches over the past two seasons.
On Sunday, they again showed they can throw a few, too.
One day after the struggling Colts pulled off a shocking victory at Green Bay, they returned home with a puncher's chance of getting back into the playoff race.
''We have a bunch of fighters on this team,'' defensive tackle David Parry said Monday. ''When you get backed into a corner, you're either going to fight or you're going to quit, and we're not going to quit.''
The Colts (4-5) certainly have shown their ability to counterpunch time after time.
They didn't go down when coach Chuck Pagano missed 11 games while battling leukemia in 2012. They won the AFC South in 2013 after Reggie Wayne incurred a season-ending knee injury in Week 7. They repeated as division champs in 2014 despite an 0-2 start, and last season Indy went 8-8 though Andrew Luck missed nine games.
It's no different this year.
Four times, Indy's season appeared on the verge of collapse and each time the Colts fought back.
The run started in Week 3, when the winless Colts used a fourth-quarter rally to get past San Diego. Two weeks later, against the reeling Chicago Bears, Indy found itself on the ropes again - until another Andrew Luck's rally saved the day. Two weeks after that, the Colts were staring at a possible 0-3 start in division play until scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes to win at Tennessee.
So when the Colts headed to Green Bay on Sunday, following a loss to Kansas City and amid questions about coach Chuck Pagano's job security heading into the bye week, the Colts delivered again. This time, Indy strung together its most complete game of the season and walked with away with its first win at Lambeau Field since 1988.
''We needed it. We needed it for ourselves, I think,'' Luck said after the game. ''We know we can be a good team. There are things we have to clean up and we have to stack these together. We needed this in a bad way.''
Last season, Pagano went through a similar scenario, with the Colts cranking out victories in every must-win game except one, a stretch that included another improbable early November victory over eventual Super Bowl champion Denver. The lone loss, at home to Houston, wound up costing the Colts their third straight division crown and their fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
So why does Indianapolis save its best for the high-stakes games? Even Pagano can't really explain it.
''When our backs are against the wall, I don't think there's anyone that's better,'' he said. ''We don't need to be there, that's of our own doing. But we've learned from everything we've been through to this point, and I think you have to fight through some stuff to get to where you want to get to.''
Now he needs to see improved play over the crucial final seven games.
A loss to Tennessee on Nov. 20 could throw a monkey wrench into their division hopes. Four days later, they'll host a Thanksgiving night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then Indy hits the road for three of the next four: at the New York Jets, at Minnesota and at Oakland, with only home games against Houston and Jacksonville left.
All seven could be considered must-win games.
But the good news is that's typically when the Colts come out swinging.
''We've got to stay hungry and we've got to understand and remember this feeling. This is why you do what you do,'' Pagano said. ''I'm excited about where we are right now.''
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