INDIANAPOLIS –Three weeks ago against Miami, the 4-3 Colts were playing the 4-3 Dolphins in a game that was very important.
After the 23-20 victory, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians said the feel at Lucas Oil Stadium was that of a playoff game because of the intensity of the action and the vocal nature of Colts partisans.
This Sunday, the 6-4 Colts return to their venue to host the 4-6 Buffalo Bills. It is three games later on the NFL schedule, meaning there are only six more opportunities for any team hoping to extent a season beyond 16 games.
Thus, he says Buffalo is in a playoff mode. The Bills will not be alone, though.
"This is a playoff game. This is a playoff game for us. We have to take that approach because Buffalo's taking that approach," said Arians. "They're do-or-die. We'd better be do-or-die. That is our approach. It's been our mindset all week."
The Colts enter this weekend in good position in the AFC race. Indianapolis is tied with Pittsburgh (6-4) in the Wild Card hunt. The division leaders are Houston (10-1), New England (8-3), Baltimore (8-2) and Denver (7-3).
Cincinnati is 5-5, and Buffalo is neck-and-neck with Miami, Tennessee and San Diego at 4-6. New York had a chance to improve its 4-6 record on Thanksgiving, but dropped a 49-19 home decision to New England.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne is the most tenured player on the roster. Wayne was a vital member of nine straight playoff teams, so he is familiar with being in the hunt.
"Probably from here on out every game is going to be a playoff game," said Wayne. "We are in a position now where if we win out, we're in. There are a lot of teams that want our position. They're going to treat every game like a playoff game, and we need to do the same. Every game from now on is going to be real crucial for this ballclub."
This time a year ago, Wayne was not part of the playoff push. Indianapolis was 0-10, and Wayne was going to sit a post-season on the sidelines for the first time since his 2001 rookie season. He likes where the club is now.
"This is the journey that all teams want to take. This is the approach we wanted," said Wayne. "We wanted to give ourselves a chance. Once you get into the Big Dance, anything can happen. We just want to continue this journey, continue to ride this ship."
While he is aware of the standings and the separation the club has currently from those behind it, Wayne says the focus should be like wearing blinders – just worry about performance as it relates to the team.
"I'm not really looking at none of them. I'm just worrying about us," said Wayne. "I just know if we take care of us, we're fine. That's to keep winning games. The more we win, the better our opportunity. I don't think anybody in this locker room should be looking at who is in front of us and who is behind us. If we just play Colts football and win games, we'll be fine."
Arians said the club is as healthy as it has been in a while. Cornerback Vontae Davis will be a game-time decision. Tight end Coby Fleener has worked this week to overcome a shoulder injury and could play. Wide receiver Donnie Avery is cleared after a concussion last week.
"Unbelievable, (it's) really nice. The first time this year," said Arians of having the chance to pick among healthy players for who the active bunch will be on Sunday.
Arians is 5-2 in the interim capacity for Head Coach Chuck Pagano. It is a club record for wins by an interim leader.
Arians' total ranks high among the best-ever interim NFL field leaders. A head coach at Temple from 1983-88, his success spawned a question on if his head coaching aspirations have been rekindled.
"I don't even think about it," said Arians. "For me, it's a day-to-day process just like the players. If I ask the players to stay in the moment, you'd better stay in there yourself. We'll cross those bridges if there are bridges to cross someday. Right now, it's just the Buffalo Bills."