INDIANAPOLIS --- One month left in the season and tied for first place despite a 6-6 record, Chuck Pagano drove home his message after the last practice of the week Friday before a week 14 road game in Jacksonville Sunday.
Pagano took the podium for his press conference after practice wearing a grey t-shirt with a quote that sounded like Rocky Balboa.
"It's not whether you get knocked down," the shirt read, "it's whether you get back up." Pagano knows that better than anybody in the building on West 56th Street, and his players know it.
"The theme of everything is we still have a chance to do whatever we want to do," said punter Pat McAfee Friday of Pagano's message to the players this week, which started in the team meeting Monday morning following a 45-10 loss at Pittsburgh. "Any time Chuck steps up there, he's a highly respected man. He has so many great ways of putting things. He's a guy we listen to."
"We've been knocked down six times. You gotta get up a 7th, 8th, even a 9th time," said outside linebacker Robert Mathis Friday. "That's the mark of a competitor. If you want to be a champion, that's what it's going to take. You're not the first, nor the last, to be knocked down. So get up."
Pagano took it a step further Friday in his press conference after practice. Towards the end, he was asked about the availability of inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson Sunday, who is officially questionable with a quad injury. Pagano used Jackson's situation as a microcosm for the entire Colts team right now.
"Right now we got all our chips out. We're putting them all in the middle, and I got all my chips on this team. I got all my chips on (Jackson) playing," said Pagano, before one reporter joked he has a lot of chips. "Couple left."
Pagano then pulled a poker chip out of his pocket to show everybody at the press conference, drawing laughs from everyone, but driving home his message.
"All in," Pagano said. He really had poker chips in his pocket? "Damn right." His final press conference response on this day.
"That's been a message from the jump," said Mathis. "Just be all in. Get in or get gone, basically."
"It's kind of a mindset. This is our life right now. We put ourselves in this situation, but we have a chance to redeem ourselves for some of the flaws we made this season if we all just fully commit," said McAfee. "A large majority of this team has fully committed this whole time, and we're just kind of putting the pressure on everybody else. 'Come on. Let's do this. Let's end the season the right way.' Our fans deserve it. Our team deserves it. We're ready to rock."
Pagano can deliver a strong message with the best of them. His players will try to back it up Sunday at Jacksonville, with the division title still fully in their control.