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FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Posted Nov 4, 2012

One of the youngest teams in the league, the Colts are 5-3 through the first eight games and are finding their rhythm with rookie players.

INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing is unlikely for the Indianapolis Colts.

 

A team that refused to use the “R” word – rebuilding – following the roster makeover that replaced a number of veterans with younger faces is now 5-3 and making a post-season push.

 

The club most observers predicted would earn the first overall pick in the 2013 draft with a last-place 2012 record sits atop the Wild Card standings midway through the year after a 23-20 win against the Miami Dolphins.

 

Most unlikely of all – the push is led by a gang of rookies.

 

“(Interim) Coach Arians told us we don’t have time to be rookies,” said first-year tight end Dwayne Allen, who recorded six catches on the day.

 

In the team’s fifth win of the year, the rookies showed that they are growing up fast.

 

Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck had a breakout performance, compiling an NFL rookie single-game record 433 yards on 30-of-48 passing, including two touchdowns.

 

Rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton pulled in six catches for 102 yards, most notably a 36-yard touchdown that ended up being a key play in the second half.

 

Rookie running back Vick Ballard churned out 60 yards on 16 carries, none more important than the game-clinching 19-yard run with 46 seconds to play.

 

“That’s what those guys are going to have to do,” said veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, who led the team with seven receptions.  “They’re going to have to step up and make plays when their numbers are called.”

 

It was a day when leukemia-stricken Head Coach Chuck Pagano made an emotional homecoming, his first since being diagnosed in late September.

 

It ended up being a special day for many reasons.

 

Luck topped the former single-game rookie record set by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton in 2011.  He did so by one yard on a two-yard dump off to Allen that set up kicker Adam Vinatieri’s go-ahead 43-yard field goal with 5:58 remaining.

 

“That kid just continues to amaze,” said Wayne.  “He has a really bright, bright future.  Hopefully, I can help add on to this legacy that he’s about to build.  I was happy for him, man. He took control of the game as he always does.  Like we’ve been saying all year – no panic, no pressure.”

 

Luck treated the Colts to a 9:48 time of possession advantage by completing 14-of-17 for 216 yards on third down.  The Colts finished the day 13-of-19 on third down against a Miami defense that came into the game only allowing opponents to move the chains only 26 percent of the time.

 

Ballard, who hooked up with Luck last week at Tennessee for the game-winning touchdown in overtime, said the Colts’ recent success has been a week-by-week approach to the season, which has helped young players to not become overwhelmed with the enormity of playing at the game’s highest level.

 

While the “R” word has not been heard in weeks, Ballard said the “P” word – playoffs – is not in the team’s vocabulary yet either.

 

“We just have to take it one game at a time,” he said.  “We had Miami this week, got it over with, and now we go to the Jaguars and continue to take it one at a time.”

 

Outside the Colts locker room, the same locker room Pagano visited following Sunday’s win to offer congratulations to his team, it seemed unlikely that Indianapolis would be tied for the third-best record in the AFC at the midway point of the year.

 

But then again, nothing seems unlikely with a contingent of rapidly improving rookies.

 

Luck caught up with Pagano as he was leaving the locker room, a day before his second round of chemotherapy which is scheduled for Monday.  With plenty still to learn, the rookie quarterback was eager for instruction from his coach before Thursday night’s divisional matchup with Jacksonville.

 

“We’ve got a short week,” Luck called to Pagano from down the hall, imitating a text message.  “I’m going to need some tips for a short week.”

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