INDIANAPOLIS – One key mantra for the Colts through many successful seasons has been for players to listen to the key voices around them.
Players know to heed the advice of coaches and key organizational members. Established veterans have done that religiously through their careers with Indianapolis, and they have enjoyed many prosperous times.
Players newer to the club's culture heard the same advice and saw the direction veteran leaders provided. The results did not meet with aspirations until last Sunday. Indianapolis earned a 27-13 victory over Tennessee.
Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian long has been one of the internal guiding voices, and he was happy to see players enjoy the victorious outcome. It was Colts football.
"It surely was (Colts football)," said Polian. "I've said before, five or six weeks ago, that one of our defensive players saw tape of another team and said to me, 'They play like we used to.' I said to that player today, 'We played like we used to today.' "
All season, observers of the team have heard Polian and Head Coach Jim Caldwell stress the importance of executing the small details of the game. The Colts were able to do that on Sunday against Tennessee, and it was a pleasing sight for both men.
"It was execution and tough breaks along the line (that were problems)," said Polian. "It never was integrity. It never was (lack of) effort. We're playing without five defensive starters and I don't know how many teams have played the kind of defense we played since the New England game. All it took as (former Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) often said when things go wrong, 'Go back to your roots. Go back to what you believe in.' We did that defensively. (Defensive Coordinator Mike Murphy) Murph's done it. The defensive staff has done it. They got rewarded today, and they had a remarkable, incredible performance."
In the face of a difficult season that did not yield a victory until the final quarter of the season, Colts players stood firm in their resolve and approach in preparation. The dedication never waned, and it is a result of the type of players the organization attracts.
"People talk about character all the time, and it's a cliché in many respects," said Polian. "What it really is is football temperament. It's people who care about what they do. It's people who are more than willing to work every, single day in the face of failure. When you lose, it's a failure. They keep coming back.
"For years and years when Tony Dungy has given the speech, when I've given the speech, when Jim Caldwell has given the speech, we always talk about perseverance. This (season) is what tested this organization's ability to persevere. These guys (players) believe it. They believe what we stand for. They believed in what they're coached to do. They're high-character guys who never, ever quit."
Cornerback Jacob Lacey serves as an example of a player who fights on and does not stop when low times hit. Lacey started five of the first six games on the left side this season before moving into a substitute role. He has opened the last three games on the corner again, and he responded Sunday with 12 tackles and a 32-yard scoring interception return. The return staked the Colts to a 20-6 lead they would not relinquish, and Lacey helped spell the difference. He has been a good component to a unit that has been hurt dramatically by injuries.
"Jacob for the last two weeks has played lights out. He's been the Jacob Lacey of old," said Polian. "Many of these guys have been nursing injuries. It's been a terrible, terrible time. To see them play the way they did today, fight like the devil and make big plays, that's a great, great feeling. You would think we've been to the mountaintop. It seems like for a decade or more we've been a couple of steps from the mountaintop every year. We're down as far as you can go this year, and yet these guys have practiced and performed to the best of their abilities every week. If you watch our team practice every day, you would not know that we're not 10-2. That speaks to the type of people we have in this locker room."
The team won 115 regular-season games from 2000-09, the winningest decade in NFL history. Indianapolis won seven division crowns, two conference titles and Super Bowl XLI. It had long winning streaks to start various seasons – 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006, 7-0 in 2007, 14-0 in 2009. Competing from the lead spot is tough enough. Fighting from an 0-13 valley is very hard to do.
"It is. It is. It is," said Polian. "To fight when you only have pride to play for, that says a lot about the people you have. Today, the players got rewarded for their loyalty. This is a great day for this organization. … For everything we've gone through this year, this is as good a feeling as we've had in quite a while. … It's been uphill all year. You can't deny the record, but you can't deny the effort, and you can't deny some of the real good players we have."
There have been impressive performances all season by a number of players. Linebacker Pat Angerer is one of three defensive players who have opened each outing. Angerer is among the NFL leaders with 131 tackles, 66 solo. He had 12 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception against Tennessee. The takeaways were momentum-changers for Indianapolis, and it marked the fifth time this season Angerer totaled 10 or more stops in a game. Polian lauds the performance of the second-year player, along with that of fellow linebacker Kavell Conner. Conner made an early big hit on Tennessee running back Chris Johnson that helped get the Colts rolling.
"Pat Angerer, if no one from our team makes the Pro Bowl this season, Pat deserves to make it," said Polian. "There's no question he's played middle linebacker as well or better as anybody in the National Football League. Kavell Conner made a big hit to open the game and set the tone. That's an example of players who believe. You don't get that kind of effort from players if they don't believe in what they're doing and what their coaches are telling them to do."
Sunday was not all about on-field heroics. Indianapolis has been supported this season by its outstanding fans. There were 64,271 in attendance on Sunday. This Thursday's game with Houston will draw a close to the home schedule, and it will be the eighth straight season with sell outs for each game. Thursday will mark the 103rd sell out in the last 104 home appearances. Everyone with the Colts acknowledges what the fans mean to the team and its efforts to win.
"Our crowd today was as good as we have ever had," said Polian. "They were with us 100 percent. They got excited. They helped the defense. It was wonderful, and they've been that way all season.
"We have great fans. It (the win) was a big reward for their loyalty. It speaks to this market and how people understand and care about football and care about our guys. You can't say enough good things about them. It speaks to the bond we have with our fan base and how really, really good they are."