INDIANAPOLIS – Bruce Arians never is at a loss for words, but those words Friday were a little harder to enunciate than normal. It can be blamed on Indianapolis.
“It’s always great to be back in Indy,” said Arians. “Every time I come back, it feels like coming home.
“I love the people here. We saw a lot of friends (Thursday) night. (My) voice is a little hoarse because of it.”
Arians had two tenures with the Colts, the last coming in 2012 when he directed Indianapolis for 12 games while Chuck Pagano fought leukemia (click here for memorable Pagano speech).
Arians’ performance helped land the football lifer the head position at Arizona, and the Cardinals produced a 10-6 record in the rugged NFC West.
It was a division that produced the NFC’s finalists (13-3 Seattle and 12-4 San Francisco), and Arians said Arizona is close to competing against the best.
“If we were in the playoffs, we would have done some damage. We just didn’t win enough games,” said Arians. “The division is a great division. You’re battle-tested when you come out of it. We look forward to next season.”
“I saw great improvement this year,” Arians said of Luck. “I thought he carried the team to the playoffs. His performance in the playoffs was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
“He just refuses to lose. Just let him play football, and he’ll win games for you. He is a flat winner. He was a true joy to coach. You have a chance to win your division every year if he’s playing for you.”
Luck set the NFL rookie record with 4,374 passing yards, while throwing for 23 touchdowns. He helped the Colts earn consecutive 11-5 records with 3,822 yards and 23 more scores this year.
Luck directed Indianapolis to a Wild Card win over Kansas City, 45-44, after trailing, 38-10, in the third quarter. Luck hit 29-of-45 passes for 443 yards and four scores, while scoring himself on a fumble recovery as the Colts earned the NFL’s second-largest playoff comeback victory.
It was a role to which Wayne adapted in 2012 by snaring 106 passes for 1,355 yards after staying largely on the left side of the offense for years.
“Reggie accepted that role (after) sitting on that left side for all those years,” said Arians. “Just for him to line up on the right side was tough at the beginning. He embraced that role and had a breakout year.”
Arians views that age threshold as one where veteran receivers can maintain excellence, if they work and stay open-minded.
“Most of those guys lose a step at age 30, it’s just natural,” said Arians. “As hard as they train, once they hit 30 it’s just a different ballgame for those guys.
“They all want to become better players, ‘Help me become a better player than when I was 26.’ This is how you do it.”
Wayne injured a knee in October and missed the final nine games. The injury snapped a 189-game playing streak for Wayne, who is 35.
“(He’s) so tough. He’s an ultimate winner,” said Arians. “There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll come back as good or better. He’s going to work that hard to make sure he does.”
Arians thought his career was over. It was an offer from Pagano to join the Colts that extended a career that now has taken proportions Arians always had wished for but thought never would come.
His time in Indianapolis helped a dream come true for a guy from Pennsylvania who grew up loving the John Unitas and the Colts.
“My first three years were fantastic working with Peyton (Manning),” said Arians. “Two years ago was a true Fairly Tale. No one would ever buy the rights to the movie, I don’t think, but it was fun.
“There’s a blue horseshoe in here (pats chest) forever.”