INDIANAPOLIS –Chuck Pagano is not one to dodge a question, even if his answer provides a peek at what is below the surface.
Absent 12 games with a successful three-month fight with leukemia, Pagano will charge onto the field Sunday with his Colts. He described how he will feel in one word.
"It's going to be awesome," said Pagano. "Any time you're taken away, for 28 years I knew exactly where I was supposed to be and where I was in the fall. It certainly wasn't at home. I just wasn't used to that. We targeted this date and being able to get back and re-join the team and run out with the team and make it back for the final home game and playoffs is a true blessing.
"It's going to be a great day for everybody. We have business to take care of. The main focus is the Texans and winning this football game. I'm ecstatic, obviously, and feel very, very blessed to be back."
Pagano led the team through three productive days of work prepping for Houston. With a team that has yet to lose consecutive games, he feels regular season momentum can be carried over into next week.
"No question. This team has been resilient," said Pagano. "They never lost two games in a row. Then they'd string three or four (wins) together, stub a toe here or there and come right back and win a game.
"Absolutely, I believe what they've created (is sustainable). To be able to win this game and send a message to everybody else, that's only to our benefit. You want to go in the playoffs with a good feeling. There'd be no better feeling than have 11 wins and have that momentum going into the playoffs."
Houston is trying to nail down the AFC's top playoff seed. A loss to the Colts Sunday could push the Texans into the Wild Card round, a much tougher road and the same one Indianapolis will take.
Both teams know what is at stake, and Indianapolis must neutralize J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and the Texans defense better than in a 29-17 loss three weeks ago at Houston.
"We all know what happened in the first game with those two guys. These guys had an opportunity to look at the tape and correct whatever technical mistakes that were made, fundamentally, communication-wise. It's been a point of emphasis," said Pagano.
Asked again if Andrew Luck were showing signs of fatigue from a long season, Pagano dismissed the notion beyond just the normal wear everyone feels this time of year.
"No different than anyone else than I've watched in my absence," said Pagano. "He'd be the first one to tell you he's okay. Like all the coaches this time of year and all those players, everybody's a little bit tired, nicked up. He's thrown a lot of passes. He's probably a little bit tired. He's a tough guy. He's strong both mentally and physically. He's been able to push through and do a great job."
Luck kidded this week that he is not allowed to feel tired, and Pagano joined the stand-up routine.
"(Laughs) Exactly right. Like I say, 'Get in here early. If you have to go straight coffee grinds, go straight coffee grinds. Get yourself going.' That's what I do. Nobody really has a choice at this point."
The goal of every coach is continued progress by his team, and Pagano says the trend is upward from when he left in September.
"They've grown by leaps and bounds. … They just got better each and every week," said Pagano. "They come to work every day. There's a reason they were able to do what they've done. They understood the process, and they stayed with the process. They didn't get ahead of themselves and just worked to get better each week.
"We wanted to play our best football not early in the season but at the end of the year, and I think that's what they're doing."
INJURY UPDATE – Pagano said Delone Carter (ankle), Cory Redding (quad), Samson Satele (ankle) and Antonio Johnson (ankle) will miss the Houston game. He said Redding's quad strain is significant but should pose no threat to next week's playoff game. Andrew Luck (knee) has practiced all week, and Pagano sees no scenario where Luck misses action Sunday.