INDIANAPOLIS — As a high school football player in Indiana, Ryan Grigson had a chance to play at the RCA Dome in the state football championships.
And, as the Colts' general manager since 2012, Grigson has witnessed, first-hand, the kind of support and home field advantage the team's rabid fan base can provide at Lucas Oil Stadium — with or without the roof open.
So with the Houston Texans coming to town on Sunday for a late-season AFC South showdown with first place on the line, Grigson has issued a challenge to Colts Nation to let their voices be heard come 1 p.m. Sunday.
"The players need to bring their 'A' game, but also the 12th man needs to bring theirs, and to blow the lid off the place," he said. "Because as a former player, anybody that's been in sports, you know when the crowd's into it, it gives you just that little bit, and as Jim Irsay always says — it's a great quote — is, 'It's a game of inches that can turn into miles.'
"And that little bit from the crowd and that energy, the players feed off of it."
With both teams claiming a 6-6 record — and tied atop the division standings with the Tennessee Titans — the winner of Sunday's game will place themselves firmly in the driver's seat in the AFC South with just three games left to go in the regular season.
The Colts hope to have a different result from their first matchup of the season against the Texans on Oct. 16, when Indianapolis started fast and had a two-score lead late in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium, only to see that lead dwindle away and see Houston force overtime, where the Texans won it with a field goal from Nick Novak, 26-23.
The win for Houston was its second straight in the series, as the Texans also defeated the Colts, 16-10, last December to put a major blow into Indianapolis' late run at a possible playoff berth.
While both teams have seen their share of changes since their Week 6 matchup, Grigson said the familiarity between the two squads — as well as everything riding on the outcome— should make for a "really hard-fought game from the start."
"On the surface, you know, there's injuries, guys coming off injury. I think that that, to be honest with you, that's probably the biggest (difference)," Grigson said. "But you have the two quarterbacks, they have their runner, they have those beasts on defense. And then, of course, they've got (DeAndre) Hopkins — that hasn't changed. So it's a very good football team that has had our number now twice in a row, and so we need to change that."
Grigson hopes the Colts are able to set the tone on defense, where the team will likely be starting two youngsters in the middle of the field. Edwin Jackson, a first-year player out of Georgia Southern, and Antonio Morrison, a fourth-round pick of the Colts in this year's NFL Draft, are expected to be the team's two inside linebackers due to the suspension of veteran and leading tackler D'Qwell Jackson.
While Edwin Jackson has had a bit of a head start, starting four games this season and recording 21 tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits, Morrison has only really gotten a taste of the defense throughout his rookie season.
Morrison has been effective when on the field — he's been credited with 15 tackles and a quarterback hit, as well as eight special teams stops, so far — but Grigson said the key for both Edwin Jackson and Morrison is to forget about the mistakes they will assuredly make from time to time and to focus on simply playing football.
"They're young, there will be young sort of mistakes probably — Coach (Pagano) is very good at that in terms of, 'Hey, you're going to make mistakes. Go to the next play.' Even the best players in this league — the top guys, the elite players — are going to have a bad snap," Grigson said. "So they've just got to go out there, have short memories, and play with their hair on fire like they do at practice every day, like they did at training camp, like they did at Georgia Southern and at Florida.
"Just don't let it change. Don't take yourself out of what makes you good because you're thinking; you go out there and you react. And that's what those guys need to do if they're going to help us win."
And, if Grigson has his way, the Colts' 12th man will be right behind Edwin Jackson, Morrison and the rest of the 53-man roster as they try to claim their biggest victory of the season yet.
"They want that — they want to feel that love from the crowd," Grigson said. "So, really, I know Coach (Pagano) feels the same: everybody's got to bring their 'A' game in the stands this week, too.
"…It's a division opponent at home, and that's, really, enough said. That's it in a nutshell. It's a division opponent at home. And we want to win in Lucas Oil (Stadium) every crack we get at it."