INDIANAPOLIS –A sport that involves enough emotion on its own has provided an abundant amount for the 2012 Colts.
At 1-2 after three games and losing their head coach while he battled leukemia, the Colts put together one of the most memorable of their 29 seasons in Indianapolis.
With newcomers more than dotting the coaching staff and roster, Indianapolis navigated through the regular season without losing consecutive games, something done only on eight prior occasions since 1953.
Indianapolis bounced back from losses with wins, once stacking four straight together and another time doing so with three consecutive triumphs.
The Colts tied a league mark done six other times by winning seven games in the fourth-quarter or overtime. They authored a double-digit victory total after going 2-14 in 2011.
Bruce Arians tied a league record with nine victories, something accomplished by only two other interim NFL coaches, and not since 1961.
"We haven't had a chance to really pump the brakes and look back on anything yet," said General Manager Ryan Grigson in Kansas City. "I'm looking forward to that in the summertime, maybe. Maybe see how our season went. Just looking what transpired day-by-day, week-to-week, it's hard to keep track of. To say its storybook is almost an understatement."
Players on many occasions this year said they heard the message of Chuck Pagano enunciated by Arians as he guided the team through the same on-field fights their head coach was having with his health.
Arians was not around for last year's struggle, but he knew the club had a proud winning culture, and he saw veterans help lead the way this season.
"It's (the culture) a huge part (of why this happened)," said Arians. "(Dwight) Freeney, (Robert) Mathis, Antoine Bethea, Reggie Wayne, all those guys have one losing season in their careers. They weren't used to it. It was an aberration to them.
"It's a credit to them to grab these young guys and mold them as fast as they have because they knew we were going to need a lot of young guys."
For more than the last half of the season, the active roster had fewer than 20 players who were with the team previously. Grigson augmented the roster when injuries hit, and the Colts won Sunday with 13 players on injured reserve. A total of 68 players have competed this year, while 42 different starters have been employed.
"It means a lot. That is one of our goals," said Freeney of reaching the playoffs. "It definitely feels good. It's a step in the right direction. It is definitely an accomplishment based on everything we have faced this year."
While the team has not played 60 minutes of flawless football in any outing, it has had complete efforts weekly, and that is a key to Arians.
"This team has found a way to win close ballgames," said Arians. "If you play hard, play really hard for 60 minutes, you'll beat most teams in this league because they don't."
Pagano is expected to return on Monday. It would be an emotional return to a team that held firmly to the message he instilled.
Keeping that message clear and on-point was Arians.
"He was our interim leader," said Wayne of Arians. "He came in and filled some big shoes and did a great job keeping everyone together. It could have been easy for us to lose focus. We could have gone into the tank. He was able to keep everybody into it. He kept everybody sticking to the process."
Cory Redding joined the Colts from Baltimore, not long after Pagano's arrival. Late last week, Redding said how much it would mean to him if the team could present a playoff football to Pagano upon his return.
"It would mean a lot for the simple fact that nobody gave us a chance, but us," said Redding. "Nobody believed we could do the things we set out to do, but us. For us to meet our goals…to achieve that goal and hand him the ball and for him to address us again as our head coach, it will be tremendous because of the road he went down."
The opportunity could come today, and it would be poignant.
"It is special," said Grigson of the team's accomplishment. "It's just a testament to Coach Pagano, his message, the message that was carried on by Coach Arians. That's the one of, 'Team, true team.' "