INDIANAPOLIS –That the Colts are improved from a year ago at this time is obvious.
Indianapolis is four games ahead of where it stood after seven games a year ago, and the team already has doubled its victory total from the entire past season.
It is no time for let up, not with Miami visiting on Sunday sporting an identical 4-3 record that makes this contest one of the AFC's most interesting games this weekend.
The Colts and Dolphins are lodged with five other teams that have at least four victories, while six other teams lurk behind with three wins.
For Indianapolis, it has been a year of triumph over prediction and adversity. Not a trendy pick among observers, the team started on a "L-W-L-W-L-W" path prior to last Sunday's 19-13 overtime win at Tennessee that put Indianapolis above .500 for the first time since December of 2010.
The Colts earned their first winning streak of the year, doing so while Head Coach Chuck Pagano missed his fourth game with an illness.
Pagano is a key reason the team has aspirations beyond what others believed could happen, and the team wants to keep moving forward for him and itself as the season reaches the halfway point this Sunday.
The Colts have played very well in spurts, but they have yet to piece together a full 60-minute effort.
In week two's win over Minnesota, Indianapolis bolted to a 17-6 halftime, a lead it pushed to 14 points before having to win in the waning seconds with a field goal. A week later, the club lost an 11-point home lead in falling to Jacksonville on a late 80-yard pass play.
Following Pagano's leave, the Colts sputtered early against Green Bay in dropping behind at intermission, 21-3. A revved-up second half saw the Colts play some of their best ball of the season in earning a 30-27 victory.
The team started fast early with two touchdowns against Cleveland two games ago, then hung tough in the final quarter of a 17-13 victory.
Last week at Tennessee, Indianapolis had trouble finishing drives through three quarters, but the defense was resilient in keeping the game in reach. The offense responded with a late 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the contest at 13 before winning it on the first overtime possession with another 80-yard drive to the end zone.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians has subbed for Pagano by going 3-1. He is seeking the first 60-minute effort and feels there is optimism in the record despite the team not having a full-game execution day to this point.
"Oh, no doubt," said Arians. "We've played 30 minutes of great football a couple different times. We didn't play poorly in the first half (at Tennessee), we just didn't play good enough to win. In the second half, we got off the field on third down. We played better first-down football, got off the field, (the) defense did a great job, and (we) just finished the drives offensively when we had to."
Pagano and the coaching staff drilled the team throughout the spring and summer to expect achievements over anything else. The team is playing with eight rookies, approximately 30 players with less than three years of NFL experience and with about 33 faces new to the organization this year.
Quarterback Andrew Luck has helped guide the fortunes of the 4-3 start, and he knows refinements can be made.
"It's great to have a winning record. It's much better where we are now than 3-4 or 2-5," said Luck. "We realize we have so much more to improve on in every game. We're not overlooking any opponent by any means. We haven't earned that right. I don't think we'll ever earn that right. It will be a tough one against the Dolphins this week. It was nice to get a win (at Tennessee)."
Injuries have been an issue for the Colts like any team. The offensive line has started multiple alignments. Key defensive veteran parts have missed significant time, one being linebacker Dwight Freeney who was out for two games with an ankle injury that still takes a toll on him.
"I don't think we've put a complete game in yet," said Freeney. "We've won and we aren't apologizing for anything. Wins are hard to come by and they all mean a lot. Obviously, yeah, they haven't been the greatest performances all across the board, but sometimes you win like that.
"It definitely shows that we are winning games when we are not firing on all cylinders. We've been doing pretty good. These guys are excited that we won on the road. I definitely am, especially winning against a divisional opponent on the road. I don't think you realize how hard that is, and we got it done."
Tackle Anthony Castonzo experienced the second two-game winning streak of his career with the triumphs over Cleveland and Tennessee. His first was in games 14 and 15 last year, so this has been a dramatic improvement over his rookie season.
Castonzo feels the team has earned it earned its way among the AFC teams vying for positioning, and he thinks the club is scratching the surface of what it can accomplish.
"I don't think it's a fluke," said Castonzo when asked if the team's 4-3 record could be termed that way. "I think at the beginning of the year we were confident we were going to be a winning football team. We just have proven it.
"I don't really think (we have played a full game yet). We just got finished watching the Tennessee film. There are definitely a lot of things that can be corrected. We're not even close to our potential. I don't think we've put together that complete game yet. When we do, it's going to be awesome."
PERSONNEL UPDATE -- The Colts have signed running back Alvester Alexander to the practice squad.
Alexander, 5-11, 204, originally was signed by the Colts on August 15, 2012 before being waived on August 26. He was signed to the practice squad on September 3 and released from the practice squad on October 9.