INDIANAPOLIS –Thirteen games remained when Chuck Pagano was forced to leave his team to fight leukemia.
Pagano is waging a terrific fight, and his targeted sideline return remains for December 30. The team has won six-of-eight to reach 7-4, owning the AFC's fifth playoff seed with five games left.
"Each game has become more important. Our goal is in sight," said Arians on Wednesday. "As long as we stay within the moment, we'll be playing when he comes back. That has always been our goal since he got sick – to extend the season.
The forest has thinned indeed, but more heavy lumber remains before Pagano's hopeful return.
Trips to Detroit, Houston and Kansas City lurk, as does a visit by Tennessee.
Arians says the team has bonded tremendously over his absence and wants to win for its leader
"because they love Chuck and what he stands for."
Arians says Pagano's return would not be cosmetic. He, again, would be the kingpin.
"If he comes back, he'll be the head coach and taking back over," said Arians. "His footprints and handprints are all over this team. It's his team."
Pagano remains engaged through phone calls, texts and brief cameos. Arians says Pagano loves the success he sees.
"He's ecstatic about it," said Arians. "I think every time we talk, he's extremely excited about what's going on and knowing that the foundation that he laid is the right one."
Being present at games and staying in touch is solid tonic for the healing Pagano.
"Being around football, I think, is one of the things that's getting him well," said Arians. "The more he can be in the building and be around the guys when it's not detrimental to his health, it's unbelievable medicine for him. Being able to break down film and doing all the things that he's doing at the house, and then texting guys (helps).
"Those things are a fabulous medicine. You have to have a reason to want to get well and when you have one as strong as this, it's great medicine."
An 11-year pro like Dwight Freeney has seen things that have bonded past teams. Freeney sees Pagano's cause as one that definitely is affecting the 2012 Colts.
"Unfortunately, circumstances caused this. The good thing about it is it causes everybody to get together, and that's very important," said Freeney. "Guys, we're real close this year, (closer) than most years around here, even though historically we've had a close-knit team.
"That's kind of been the culture of the Colts around here. Obviously, unfortunate circumstances, but it brings guys together."
Freeney, like other Colts, thinks the club is taking on the identity of Pagano, who leads largely with a "team" approach.
"I think so. It's really banding together and relying on each other," said Freeney. "Sometimes it's going to be the (offense) that wins it. Sometimes it's going to the (defense) that wins it, special teams.
"Just pass the baton, next guy up and be ready for a big game. Whoever it is, you're going to go out there and perform."