INDIANAPOLIS –Needing momentum to finish strongly after a 6-2 start reached 8-5, Chuck Pagano charted a direction to help the Colts gain momentum heading toward the post-season.
He talked about fundamentals, execution, technique and sticking to a preparation process that had led to 19 wins in 29 games.
His coachable squad listened, performed and finished 11-5 in sailing to the playoffs. The latest win was Sunday's 30-10 verdict over Jacksonville.
The Colts finished with the AFC's fourth playoff seed with Cincinnati and New England victories. The Colts will host Kansas City in the Wild Card round.
"Guys caught fire, they kept playing," said Pagano. "We had some ups and downs, some great victories and some really bad defeats. The leadership, the quality of the people in our locker room, the coaches, you just stick to the process. Never too high, never too low."
Indianapolis struck a defensive chord in wins over Houston, Kansas City and Jacksonville, holding the Texans and Chiefs to 10 combined points, and the Jaguars amassed that total Sunday only after driving 91 yards for a touchdown in the last two minutes.
Had the Colts not allowed the last drive, Indianapolis would have held three straight foes in single digits and below 300 net yards.
"I would definitely say we've got hot," said Pagano. "Any time you can play the type of defense that we've played consistently over the past three weeks, 25-3, 23-7 and today (it's great).
"It says 10 on the scoreboard, but three points really for the majority of that game. (The) defense is playing lights out, gaining a ton of momentum, a ton of confidence."
The Colts closed the year by allowing nine-of-37 third downs being converted in the last three games. Sunday the Colts defense had three three-and-outs, pushing the total to 15 in the last 36 possessions.
It had a five-possession shutout stretch against Houston, three-of-four at Kansas City and opened strongly Sunday with two out of three. In both of cases the last two weeks during those stretches where Kansas City and Jacksonville did convert one first down, both drives ended with fumbles the Colts offense turned into touchdowns.
The Colts scored 24 points the last two weeks off opponents' turnovers. Indianapolis finished with a franchise-record 14 turnovers this season and a plus-13 ratio (27:14). That came after the team was minus-12 in 2012 and ranked 26th.
"That's huge," said Antoine Bethea. "If you protect the ball and take it away, if you don't beat yourself, that's good formula for getting wins."
Pagano became the first Colts coach ever to produce 11 wins in the first two seasons of a career. Don McCafferty (1970-71), Ted Marchibroda (1975-76), Tony Dungy (2002-03) and Jim Caldwell (2009-10) opened their career with double-digit totals, but not with 11 triumphs.
"We took this thing over a couple years ago (and) they had left us for dead – 2-14 (in 2011)," said Pagano. "All we did as players and coaches was made a decision that we weren't going to live in circumstances. We were going to live in vision. We were going to go to work.
"Hats off to the players and coaches. (We) got the best owner in the NFL. Ryan (Grigson) and his crew do an unbelievable job of getting us players, but it's the guys. It's their resiliency."
The Colts' offense was resilient in protecting the ball and rushing well over the last three games. Indianapolis ran for 367 yards in the final three games, a potency that allowed Andrew Luck finish 71-of-111 passing for 703 yards and four scores while operating with a blended attack.
"Huge," said Luck of the recent rushing prowess. "Statistically it may not jump out and pop out at you, but I think when you can run the ball and pick up some first downs and keep the defense on their heels, it's huge."
For Pagano, it is all about a group of players who listen and execute selflessly.
"We always talk about the team, the team, the team. There's nothing more important," said Pagano. "We know the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Our guys have bought into that. It's very gratifying to look at all the faces of those players and coaches and be able to again win 11 games.
"We always talk about faith is believing in something that you can't see. The reward is if you believe in it long enough, you'll probably get to see it. Our journey continues."
COLTS NOTES – Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and Vontae Davis (groin) will have MRIs in evaluating their injuries, while Bjoern Werner (ankle) missed playing time…Indianapolis controlled the ball 33:40 against Jacksonville, finishing with 30-plus TOP times in each of the last three games and running the seasonal record to 7-1 in such games this year…Indianapolis used 73 different players in 16 games, the NFL's highest total and 27 of 53 players on the active roster Sunday were acquired in 2013…14 turnovers set a franchise seasonal-best, surpassing 17 in 2004 and 2008…the Colts' 66 penalties marked an NFL-low…the Colts joined Kansas City (2002) as the only teams in the last 26 years to lead the NFL in fewest penalties/turnovers in a season…the Colts had seven turnover-free games this season, the most in one year the last 16 seasons…the Colts were turnover-free in three of the last four outings…since 1998, the Colts are 48-4 without having a turnover…Luck earned his 22nd starting win, tying Ben Roethlisberger for the second-most by a QB in the first two years of a career since 1970…his 8,196 passing yards set the NFL mark for any QB in his first two seasons…Robert Mathis had 2.0 sacks to reach 19.5 for the year…he had seven multiple-sack games, a club seasonal-mark, and had takedowns in 12 games in 2013…Mathis finished as the NFL sack champion, only the second Colt ever to do so (Dwight Freeney, 2004)...Adam Vinatieri moved to fifth-place in NFL history with 2,006 points, passing George Blanda (2,002) and Matt Stover (2,004)…his 139 points are the third-highest seasonal total in franchise history...T.Y. Hilton, Robert Mathis and Adam Vinatieri were awarded game balls.