INDIANAPOLIS –Colts Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians knows what to expect on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough against the New England Patriots – the unexpected.
Arians will be taking Head Coach Chuck Pagano's team onto a difficult playing field, and he will be trying to up the 5-1 mark he has helped forge in Pagano's illness-related absence.
Waiting for Indianapolis is a talented team with a head coach in Bill Belichick who is the first ever at his position to direct nine straight teams to at least 10 or more victories.
While Arians can set the franchise record with a fifth win in an interim position, Belichick is two wins shy of becoming the eighth NFL field leader ever to win 200 career games.
"The biggest thing is don't change what you're doing. What you are doing is good enough. You don't have to add, subtract or do anything different," said Arians on Monday.
The message from Pagano and Arians has been firm and repetitive. The team has responded. After a "L-W-L-W-L-W" start through six games, Indianapolis has fashioned a four-game winning streak to reach 6-3.
The Colts are one of five AFC teams with six or more wins, and Pittsburgh can join the bunch if it wins tonight at home against Kansas City. There is separation of AFC teams that have six or more wins.
Houston (8-1), Baltimore (7-2) and Denver (6-3) join the Colts and Patriots currently, but the NFL landscape shifts every few days. What the Colts have done is nice, but…..
"Just respect the process of what we've got done, knowing that we haven't achieved anything other than put ourselves in position to achieve something," said Arians. "If we don't stay with exactly what we've been doing, start letting outside influences or whatever creep in, any team on our schedule can beat us. We can beat anybody as long as we respect the process and get ourselves ready to play."
This is the ninth straight regular season the Colts and Patriots have battled, and some of those years had playoff tilts added as well. Arians was on Colts teams from 1998-2000 that played New England twice annually when the team shared spots in the AFC East.
Arians is versed in the uniqueness and challenge of Foxborough, recalling a game Indianapolis was well in front in 1999 before losing.
"We had our share of success and our share of failure. I know how tough it is to try to get a win in Foxborough," said Arians. "I remember having a 28-7 halftime lead in (1999), and we ended up losing a game we should have never lost. It's just like the weather up there, it's unpredictable."
That day, a young and forming Colts team zipped to a 21-0 lead and led at the half, 28-7, only to lose, 31-28. Then the quarterback coach, Arians was coaching a second-year promising player in Peyton Manning. Now, he has another promising performer in rookie Andrew Luck.
Luck has tied Manning's 1998 rookie record with four 300-yard games, while he has broken the club mark Manning shared with Bert Jones for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. It has been an impressive start to a young career.
Arians will follow his same approach with Luck.
"The big thing is don't try to put a bunch of stuff in there that he (Luck) doesn't know," said Arians of how he can best prepare Luck in meeting the Patriots. "They've always done a good job of disguising coverage and moving different guys around. Just don't paralyze him by trying to over-analyze. Just play football."
Arians aims to increase the franchise record for wins by an interim head coach. John Sandusky held the previous mark of four in 1972. Belichick is one of nine NFL coaches since 1933 to win three or more championships.
Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have a regular-season record of 130-38 as a tandem. Their wins surpass the 116 recorded by Don Shula and Dan Marino in Miami, and the .774 winning percentage is ahead of the .756 achieved by Oakland's John Madden and Ken Stabler (60-19-1). They are the top performing NFL tandem since 1970.
Arians knows the duo is one of the best at scheming to succeed.
"Tom and Coach Belichick have always their hand on the pulse of the rest of the league," said Arians. "'These teams are doing this. How can we incorporate it?' I think Coach (Belichick) has always done a great job offensively of putting his guys in the best position to be successful, and that just helps Tom."
Arians said linebacker Dwight Freeney took the day off from practice, while tight end Coby Fleener and cornerback Vontae Davis did not practice.