INDIANAPOLIS –The Colts have been vocal this year about the season being 16 games in duration and that each game is an opportunity to hone skills and compete.
"You show up to play, sign up for 16 games," said Robert Mathis. "These are courtesy of Coach Chuck (Pagano). You go out, you step on the field, you play ball. You let it shake out the way it does."
The Colts host Houston Sunday, teams that are on opposite ends of the AFC South spectrum. While Indianapolis is the lone crowned 2013 division champion, the Texans visit on an 11-game losing streak.
In 2011, 10-4 Houston visited the Colts, who at 1-13 had the NFL's worst record. Indianapolis pulled off a 19-16 victory, and Pagano sees the Texans sticking to their identity and playing full speed on Sunday.
"Yeah, for the most part, but there's always a wrinkle here and there," said Pagano. "There's always the unknown that you got to be ready for."
One wrinkle the Colts adapted to in November's first meeting was serious far beyond the sport when then head coach Gary Kubiak suffered a medical event at halftime and was replaced by Wade Phillips.
The Colts rebounded from a 21-3 deficit to win, 27-24.
Phillips, a 37-year league veteran who is 82-61 in five previous roles as a head coach or interim, has felt the jolt of a season that in addition to the release of Kubiak, included the passing of his father, Bum (the legendary Oilers and Saints coach) and an arduous schedule that has seen the Texans drop their last seven games by one-score margins.
"It's obviously a nightmare," said Phillips. "It's been so many games and so close, and just not being able to make the one or two plays. It's not like we're getting beat by 20 points every game. It's been very frustrating."
A team Pagano says is "loaded with great talent" was addressed by Owner Bob McNair on Monday. It is a team that Phillips says is intent more on winning than playing for next year's top pick.
"It's pride. People are playing for their jobs and coaching for their jobs, so that's part of it, too," said Phillips. "It's not five wins, it's just one win. Your goal is that week and to prepare yourself as well as you can and get the players prepared to play as well as they can play."
Among Houston's ills is a minus-14 turnover ratio. The Texans have lost the ratio in eight outings, while winning it twice. Opponents have a 95-26 scoring bulge over Houston in points off takeaways.
Houston's 31:33 possession time average is sixth-best in the league, with the teams doing better having a combined 42-23 mark. Houston held the ball 35:22 last week against Jacksonville, but seven of 14 penalties handed the Jaguars first downs.
Houston holds a 19.2 offensive scoring average (29th in NFL) with its possession time edge, but is allowing 26.9 points a game.
Matt Schaub (six) and Case Keenum (seven) have split starts as quarterback. Keenum made his second career start against the Colts in November, but the two split playing time last week.
"We've got nothing to lose, and I think that's pretty scary for other teams," said Keenum. "We're really talented and have nothing to lose, and I think a lot of guys are (ticked) off. That's kind of a scary combination."
Veteran Andre Johnson has seen the ascent of the Texans into two-time AFC South champions. Johnson is ready to join Sunday's fight with the Colts.
"It's been tough. At the same time, we just have to keep a positive attitude and just try to keep moving forward," said Johnson. "We put ourselves in this situation. Everybody is disappointed. It's not just me. It's every player, every coach, everybody that works here in this organization is disappointed in what has happened this year.
"You just can't hang your head on it. You just have to keep moving forward."
BEEN HERE BEFORE – Nearly nine years to the day (December 14, 2003), Wade Phillips stood in Indianapolis as the opposing interim coach for Atlanta.
Phillips, who had previously performed the role in New Orleans in 1985 when the Saints released his father, was standing in for Dan Reeves.
Rookie Robert Mathis had a sack-strip of Michael Vick four plays into the game and on the ensuing snap, Peyton Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a score 1:33 into the contest.
In a 38-7 win, Indianapolis rolled to 465 net yards, 27 first downs, 178 rushing yards and the same number of TD passes as incompletions (five).
It was a day the talented and affable Phillips recalls.
"It wasn't good, and we didn't play very well. It was a shock to the team," said Phillips. "We didn't play very well against them and they had a good team, same as (the Colts) do this year.
"When they asked me about the team's execution after the game, I said I was all for it (laughs). We played better after that. We ended up winning the last two (games), so I was glad of that."