INDIANAPOLIS –As Chuck Pagano leads Indianapolis into Baltimore on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. in an AFC Wild Card game, some Colts players will be seeing their first NFL playoff action.
Twenty-eight of the club's players never have appeared in a playoff game, while the 25 who have hold a combined total of 69 starts and 141 career appearances.
With its 28-16 win over Houston Sunday, the Colts fielded a team with nine rookies, 24 players with no more than two years of experience and with only 17 players who were with the club prior to last season.
Those numbers approximately were the same for most of a season where the club went 11-5. Where teams typically drop games for the amount of young players it fields, Indianapolis was able to win largely because of them, and Head Coach Chuck Pagano plans to keep on trucking.
"A good thing sometimes with all the young players, they don't know (what) they don't know. They don't know any better," said Pagano. "That's been evident through the course of the season. Our veteran leadership, guys who have been there, they'll explain to them what the intensity level will be like, those types of things. We'll stick with the process."
The "process" this year was to focus only on immediate assignments, never looking for a bigger picture than that. It also included 14 early games, something else Pagano feels is a plus for Sunday.
"The best news I got last night is we are playing Sunday at one o'clock. That's been every game this year except (two)," said Pagano. "We'll have a normal (schedule). That's going to help us to stick to the routine. They have to focus on playing one play at a time and doing their job as best they can."
A few Colts are quite battle-tested in the post-season. Reggie Wayne (17) and Dwight Freeney (16) have been starters in the playoffs more often than not during their years. Antoine Bethea has started 10 playoff appearances, while Robert Mathis has opened eight of 15 career playoff outings. Seven of Adam Vinatieri's 24 playoff games have come since joining the Colts.
Of the 20 other Colts with playoff exposure, 12 have appeared in no more than two games, four have appeared in four, while Winston Justice (five), Jamaal Westerman (six), Tom Zbikowski (seven) and Mewelde Moore (eight) have more games.
Indianapolis and Baltimore are battling for the third time in seven post-seasons. Meeting in the Divisional Playoffs following the 2006 and 2009 seasons, the Colts earned a 15-6 win at Baltimore and a 20-3 home verdict over the Ravens. Those wins led to Super Bowl appearances.
Bethea, Mathis and Vinatieri were among Colts players with big games in the playoff game in Baltimore. Bethea had a goal-line interception in the second quarter with the Colts leading, 6-3, and the possession led to a field goal for a 9-3 halftime lead. Vinatieri nailed five field goals to account for the Colts' scoring. Vinatieri (187) is the NFL's leading post-season scorer, while scoring in the most consecutive playoff games in history (24). Mathis had a 12-yard sack/fumble to end the contest.
Pagano and interim coach Bruce Arians kept a young team focused enough that it did not drop consecutive games all year. The nature of the playoffs is different, but the process stays the same. Pagano will give simple advice.
"Just go play. We understand the magnitude of it," said Pagano. "We understand it's, 'Win or go home.' "