INDIANAPOLIS – Bruce Arians was in the number of new faces assembled when General Manager Ryan Grigson and Head Coach Chuck Pagano talked about reloading, not rebuilding.
Though some outsiders chuckled, their mindset was to win now and to hold everyone accountable in the process.
What Grigson and Pagano created and what Arians has managed in Pagano’s absence is a team that has won seven more games than last year’s total of two.
Such jumps in the NFL are uncommon, but Arians says it is possible with ingredients beyond talent.
“I think guys bought in, and they bought in right off the bat,” said Arians. Ryan has done a great job of finding guys to keep filling holes. Once a team bonds, I think they play for each other.”
The personnel influx is as dramatic as the jump in victories. Only 18 players remain from last season, and additions have come through the draft, veteran free agent and even from other leagues.
Grigson aggressively added talent. He shrewdly plugged holes when injuries occurred, and coaches readied players for immediate contributions. Pagano preached the value of relationships, and a tight team became even more so when he departed to fight leukemia.
“Talent really doesn’t matter,” said Arians. “We’ve always said talent would never be the issue of why we win or lose this year. We have enough talent to win. It’s just a matter of believing in each other and trusting each other.”
Sunday’s win over Tennessee was textbook 2012 Colts. One side of the ball held the fort until the other could catch up, and 45 men battled for 60 minutes to earn a victory.
Indianapolis is one win shy of 10 victories, and that would be a one-season eight-game leap from last year’s 2-14 record.
Twice the team has had one-season eight-game improvements – from 2-12 in 1974 to 10-4 in 1975 and from 1-15 in 1991 to 9-7 in 1992. Those are tied for the seventh-best one-year jumps in history. The 1999 Colts and 2008 Dolphins share the NFL mark with a one-year 10-game jump. The Colts went from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3.
Since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978, 34 teams (excluding 2011) have lost 14 or more games in a season. Only five bounced back with winning records. Detroit jumped from 2-14 in 1979 to 9-7 in 1980. New England jumped from 2-14 in 1981 to 5-4 in the strike-shortened 1982 season. The 1991 1-15 Colts were 9-7 in 1992. The 1996 1-15 New York Jets were 9-7 in 1997, and the 2007 1-15 Miami Dolphins went to 11-5.
The 1982 Patriots and 2008 Dolphins are the only teams to rebound from 14 or more losses to make the playoffs the next year. Indianapolis could join the duo should it advance this year.
“You can’t win nine ballgames with smoke and mirrors, not in this league,” said Arians. “You can’t win seven or eight in the last minute without having guys that pass protect, get open, get the ball back for you defensively and a quarterback who can sling it down there and get touchdowns.”
The Colts are a league-best 8-1 in games decided by seven points or less.
The Colts aim to join the 2008 Dolphins as the only teams to produce a double-digit victory total after losing 14 or more games the previous season. Little things beyond talent have counted, but so has talent, and a gifted quarterback.
“I think sometimes it’s just a matter of belief, truly belief. So many times it’s the quarterback position. I think that separates most teams,” said Arians.