INDIANAPOLIS --- Back-to-back AFC South Champions. 14th trip to the postseason in the past 16 years.
The playoffs have become an expected accomplishment for the Indianapolis Colts. Players were happy, wearing division champion hats in the locker room after the game, but it was a relatively reserved celebration with larger goals still ahead.
For linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and return specialist Josh Cribbs though, this was a different sensation. One that both had only been told about...until now. Jackson and Cribbs are going to the postseason for the 1st time in their NFL careers.
"Man, (playoffs) smell like this. Take a whiff in the air," said Cribbs after the game. "The smell is a metaphor for the emotion I'm feeling, the energy that overcame me once I came into this football organization."
"I don't know what it means at the moment," said Jackson after the game, when asked what his first postseason berth means to him. "But I know we're a shoe-in for the playoffs."
Jackson spent his first seven years in the NFL watching the playoffs on TV in Cleveland. For Cribbs, it was eight seasons in Cleveland then another with the New York Jets without making the "tournament", as NFL coaches and players like to call the playoffs. Year eight for Jackson and year ten for Cribbs will feel very different.
"To actually see it creeping up on me as the clock was winding down, I was fighting the tears like, 'I can't cry. This isn't the Super Bowl!' Not yet," recalled Cribbs telling himself at the end of the game. "We still have to go back to work on Monday. They're going to back fun of me, like Cribbs is too emotional."
"It got to the point where I was just blessed to be able to still play this game, still have my health. To me it's a bonus to be able to go to the playoffs and be division champs and everything else that comes with that," said Jackson. "I feel very humbled to be in this position with this great organization."
Cribbs and Jackson went 10-6 with the Browns in 2007 but didn't have the tiebreaker over the Steelers in the division or Titans for the wild card.
"The atmosphere, the guys, how hungry they were. To have that confidence to know that you're going to do it," said Cribbs when asked why it smelled like playoffs with the Colts. "We know we were down. We know we turned the ball over, but we're going to win. That confidence, that undying and unbelievable confidence that the team has, and everybody embodies it. That's what that energy, that vibe is when you walk into this locker room."
The playoffs might be old hat for some of the Colts, but Cribbs said he wouldn't be taking his new, black division champions hat off for a long time. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne joked Jackson even started walking into the shower and forgot he was still wearing that AFC South champs cap. So, it's probably safe to assume that's Jackson's new favorite hat.
"Right now it is. You're darn right, but I want to get one more."
The hat that comes with a ring.