BUFFALO – Effort. Competes. Toughness.
Those were Chuck Pagano's keys for Saturday night's preseason opener.
Seeing his team in live action for the first time this season, Pagano told them during a Friday night team meeting that, those three characteristics, was how they would be graded in Week One.
It took all 60 minutes to determine a winner on Saturday night, with Pagano's Colts sneaking out a 19-18 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
What Pagano liked on Saturday was how the Colts finished against the Bills (forcing an incompletion with no time on the clock, on a two-point conversion that would have won the game for Buffalo), even if it was just August.
He liked the individual playmaking shown by undrafted wide receiver Chester Rogers (a 57-yard touchdown catch following a broken tackle) and veteran running back Jordan Todman (taking off 42 yards, via a screen pass, for a touchdown).
He was a fan of how quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Stephen Moors, two guys with little game experience compared to Andrew Luck, led scoring drives after stagnant offense early on (the two combined to go 17-of-32 for 244 yards, two touchdowns and no intercpetions).
Third-down defense was something Pagano was also pleased with (the Bills were 3-of-15 on third down, and failed to score on 10 of their 13 drives), particularly for a unit needing to create young depth as injuries have hit that side of the ball already.
What the head coach did not like was the 9-0 deficit the Colts dug themselves early, a margin that began because of a self-inflicted special teams mishap (a blocked punt by the Bills resulted in a first-quarter safety).
Pagano wants to see improvement in the run game, both offensively and defensively (the Bills averaged 4.5 yards per carry, compared to 1.3 for the Colts).
Looking at the box score and seeing seven penalties is another area that had Pagano shaking his head afterwards.
Add it all up, and Saturday had the look of a preseason opener.
But, make no mistake, the head coach is glad to take home a win as his Colts return to a Training Camp setting at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center this coming week.
"It was good to play, good to get a win," Pagano said after the Colts won just their second preseason opener since 2004. "That does great things for morale."
Trying to formulate a concrete opinion on a football team after 60 minutes in August is foolish.
But Saturday night, even with the Colts resting the likes of Andrew Luck, Frank Gore and Robert Mathis, allowed Pagano and his staff to see the early steps for a new offense and a new defense and to see how four rookie offensive lineman, plus a bevy of young defenders, looked under the lights.
The Colts are done with camp in Anderson.
A camp-like schedule will continue this week though back at the team facility.
More playing time will come in the next two preseason games for the starters, including Luck's first action since last November.
But on a stormy night in upstate New York, six days after his team left Ohio with no game action, Pagano witnessed the attitude he wants when another color jersey is matched up across his team.
"This is a good group," Pagano said, "and they care a lot about each other and in the game (Saturday) that was evident."
Photos from the preseason game against the Buffalo Bills