In early hours of the morning on Oct. 12, with the sting still fresh of letting a Monday night trip to Baltimore slip away in an overtime loss to the Ravens, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay reiterated the mantra head coach Frank Reich has used in 2021.
"Climbing Mt. Everest is hard as hell," Irsay emphasized, with that part of his speech airing on "Hard Knocks" last week.
The Colts haven't climbed to the top of Mt. Everest yet. But they regained their footing by climbing back to 5-5 last week.
And after thumping the Buffalo Bills, 41-15, in Week 11, the Colts aren't deviating from that mountain-climbing mindset — but they also recognize the significance of their 26-point win on the road against a team widely considered to be a Super Bowl contender in 2021.
"When you're 1-4, your hole's pretty deep that you're in," center Ryan Kelly said. "We came back to work one week at a time. That's what this week is all about. To be 6-5 when we started 1-4, and having some tough losses, we always thought we were in it. And I think that's what drove us and kept us competitive to go out there each week and get better."
This is a team that didn't flinch after starting 0-3 and then 1-4. Inside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the Colts were always confident in what it could do, even if showing it took them longer than they hoped.
And what this team could do was what it did to the Bills on Sunday: A comprehensive, four-quarter, three-phase victory with tons of big plays and few mistakes. The game ended with Zaire Franklin picking off backup Bills quarterback Mitch Trubisky, handing possession over to Sam Ehlinger and Deon Jackson to close things out.
Less than one year after losing a heartbreaking playoff game to the Bills, the Colts ended a game with both teams' backup quarterbacks in – and it was the Colts dictating that scenario.
"To come on the road and beat the Bills in this environment, of course after last year and what this team started at 1-4, it just shows you the direction that we're headed," Kelly said. "Week by week, that's what you gotta do."
The mantra of going 1-0 every week in that climb up the mountain matters, since players and coaches bought into it even when things were trending toward more 0-1 weeks than 1-0 weeks.
"Even after all those L's," tight end Mo Alie-Cox said, "we knew who were were, we knew what we had."
"That's football," tight end Jack Doyle added. "You have a process of how you think things go well and how you think you're gonna win, and you go at that process, you get the reps, you work hard and sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way. And you just continue to dig deep into that process, into working hard, and you know that it'll start coming around the right way and the ball will bounce your way a little bit and you'll get a rhythm, get confidence, get time together and that's what's going to happen.
"We just gotta keep going and take it one week at a time and we're on to the Bucs once we get home after celebrating this one."
At 6-5, the Colts are in the thick of the AFC playoff race — but, as was the case when they were 1-4, they're not looking at the big picture. Sunday's win over the Bills was big, but there's another big game on the horizon on Nov. 28 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium. There's no time to look at standings, or playoff odds, or think about that home game against the New England Patriots next month.
Because a 1-0 mentality got the Colts out of their slow start — and they know it can get them to where they want to go if they stick to it.
"We've got to get back to work tomorrow," Reichs said. "We got a big challenge in the week ahead, the defending world champions, and winning one big game isn't going to be enough but it was an important one. We had got back to .500 and just really felt like it was really going to be important for us to win this game on the road against this kind of team. So, now we have to go back and defend our home stadium."
Frank Reich's Powerful Opening Statement
In 1993, Reich led one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history as the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback. After falling behind the Houston Oilers, 35-3, following a pick-six, Reich — starting his first playoff game — turned to the lyrics from a song, "In Christ Alone," he had wrote down the morning before the game.
After leading the Bills' comeback, 41-38 victory, Reich recited those lyrics during his postgame press conference.
Nearly 29 years later, in the same stadium, Reich again turned to those lyrics — but for a different reason on Sunday.
Here's how Reich opened his press conference after the Colts' win over the Bills, in full:
"I don't do this often, but I just wanted to start out by saying something personal. Like I said, in four years I think I've only done this one other time. Some people know that our team has been using the metaphor of climbing Mount Everest to parallel our quest to make it to the top.
"It doesn't take long to figure out that this metaphor doesn't merely apply to football. Rather, it can be a picture of the many challenges that we all face. We all face mountains that we're trying to climb. So, I just wanted to offer a word of encouragement really, to anyone out there who's in the midst of a struggle.
"In particular, I'm thinking of a few friends who I know are going through some stuff. I want to give a personal account to where I found my strength for the journey. The reason I'm doing that here and now is because, almost 30 years ago, after a really big game right down the hall, in a press conference, I shared the lyrics to a song that meant a lot to me. It really spoke to where I get my strength from.
"The song's "In Christ Alone" and it's written by Shawn Craig. I'm not going to recite the whole song like I did in the locker room back in 1993, but I do just want to share a very small snippet of it. It might encourage someone who's climbing their own mountain right now. The chorus says, 'In Christ alone I place my trust and I find my glory in the power of the cross. In every victory, let it be said of me, that my source of strength and my source of hope is Christ alone.' Then there's one small snippet in the second verse which is my favorite.
"My favorite lyric says, 'I seek no greater honor than just to know him more.' So, even though it was almost 30 years ago when I read those words here in this stadium, this week I was reminded Hebrews 13:8 says, 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.' It's crazy, but we're here some 30 years later not living in the past but rather attempting to press on to what is ahead. So, my encouragement is to keep climbing and to find the strength and power that you need in Jesus Christ."