INDIANAPOLIS –Last Sunday, the Colts beat an opponent that was one of four NFL teams to have an undefeated October.
The 23-20 victory over Miami gave Indianapolis its first three-game winning streak since 2010, a year that found most current Colts, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians included, elsewhere.
The Colts are a surprise to some at 5-3, and they are in Jacksonville trying to push the victory total higher. Arians says the nature of the players and coaches is a reason for the success so far.
"We're playing hard. I think one thing (is) we have a lot of young guys who have bought into the system," said Arians. "They're playing hard, playing for 60 minutes. We don't take a bad play and let it get to the next play. Go on to the next play. They've all bought in, and they have each other's back."
Having each other's back is a reason Indianapolis has won four games in the fourth quarter or overtime this year. It is a reason it can rebound after a tough loss to Jacksonville when the Jaguars pulled off an 80-yard scoring play in the final minute that trumped a late Colts push to take the lead.
With a team burgeoning with players new to the program (more than 30) and with 17 new coaches, establishing a mindset by the leaders was essential.
"It's been built on a real good philosophy and Chuck (Pagano) came in and Ryan Grigson and put a philosophy together of faith, family and football and trust, loyalty and respect," said Arians. "We as coaches all believe in that. It's just amazingly for a first-year staff (it) is a very close one.
"I think once you're dealt a hand you play it and you don't gripe about it. As Chuck said Sunday (when he visited the team before and after the game) we all have circumstances, but nothing can supersede getting our job done and winning. The guys have all bought in. We're like every other team. We've got a bunch of injuries and everything else, but we don't make excuses and we just go play."
Arians made a point this week to correct a question about the team rebuilding this season. He tactfully said the team is reloading and that the other 'r' word was not part of the equation. He has said frequently that young players in the program were not considered the other 'r' word – rookies – because they have been in the system all year.
It is establishing a mindset, one Arians has reinforced for Pagano that all players approach practice as if they are starters.
"If you accept anything less than that, you'll get less. I don't accept anything less than playing like a starter," said Arians this week, adding he is not surprised by the team's 5-3 mark because while with Pittsburgh he saw the integrity of players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis for years.
Freeney has played with grit this season with a high ankle injury that occurred on the season's eighth play. He has missed some time, but he has toiled through the pain.
Last week against Miami, he looked more like the Freeney of old. He was able to use a spin move a time or two, plus he had his second sack – the 104.5th of his career and coming against a 52nd career victim.
A part of many franchise successes and a participant in a rough 2-14 2011 season, Freeney is pleased with where the team stands as it faces the Jaguars.
"I'm very proud. I'm definitely not satisfied, but proud to say, 'You know, we're in a good space. We're in the hunt,' " said Freeney. "With all the change that's happened, all the first-year guys here and all the injuries and the coach not being here and be in the conversation of playoffs, it sounds pretty good.
"That being said, it's not over yet. We're not patting anybody on the back around here. I'm used to 10 wins a season and being in the playoffs. That's what we're used to and until we get to that point, I won't be happy."
Arians never exhales either. Like many coaches, he is driven by competition – on the football field, on a golf course, in life.
As Pagano's team plays its first nationally-televised game this season, Arians knows the players will be excited. A number of them will be doing it for the first time as Colts, and he knows there is a pride factor on the national platform.
He also told them there is nothing different from prime-time and early afternoon games.
"It's just a different (kickoff) time, that's all it is," said Arians. "Kickoff is at (8:20) instead of 1:00 p.m. They're not going to change the dimensions of the field, or anything like that. You always want to put your best show out there for your peers. These guys take a lot of pride in playing in front of their peers."