INDIANAPOLIS –When Bruce Arians heard from Chuck Pagano in late September that he would be taking over while Pagano fought leukemia, he only had a matter of hours until the first team meeting.
The 1-2 Colts were a young bunch with a long season ahead. Indianapolis had approximately 20 returning players from 2011, and with a roster where nearly half of the players had no more than two years NFL experience.
Oh, yeah, the roster had a number of contributing rookies, more than any Arians had seen in his NFL years.
"We've had that many on the roster, but to have an active role every Sunday, no this is by far the most," said Arians.
Ten games later, the Colts are 9-4 with an outstanding chance to make the playoffs and an outside opportunity to win the AFC South as they head to Houston.
Arians is 8-2, one win shy of tying the interim totals of Hamp Pool (1952, Rams) and Wally Lemm (Houston, 1961), believed to be the most ever in an NFL pinch-hitting role.
Arians tips his cap for the success to veteran leadership.
"Without it, we'd have no chance," said Arians. "We have great leadership on this team. The veterans have helped these rookies. Whether it's on the field, in the classroom, or in the community, these (veterans) have all joined hands with these young guys because they know those young guys are their chance to get to the playoffs. That kind of all spells, 'Team.' "
Indianapolis has not lost consecutive games all season, rebounding from one-sided setbacks at the New York Jets and New England, while standing now with wins in seven of its last eight games.
"I think collectively we've just done a great job, especially the older guys," said Dwight Freeney. "We've been around. We understand losing a game on the road by 30 points doesn't mean the season's over with. That just means we lost that one game. They all count just one game, and I think we've had that mentality.
"When we had those bad games, we responded well to it. We've won some games in a row, kind of talking to those young guys, 'This is what it's about.' You have to string those things together to get momentum."
Cory Redding is one of the most vocal veterans, and he agrees with Arians about the quality of leadership.
"That's what's carrying us through the tough situations. That's why we're here at 9-4, because of the veteran leadership in this locker room," said Redding. "If no veteran leadership was here with this young team, I don't believe we would be here. It's put us where we want to be. The leadership has to keep going. We have to pick it up even more."
Freeney sees the youthful faces in the locker room, and he knows they are a life-line for hoped-for success.
"You don't succeed without being a team. This team is made up by a majority of first- or second-year guys," said Freeney. "It doesn't matter if it happened to be older guys, there's 53 guys on the active roster. They all are a part of this and they serve a purpose. Those guys have done a tremendous job to this point."
As for the "rookie" head coach, Freeney praises Arians for his calm under fire.
"Bruce has done a great job, too, in continuing to keep on preaching what Chuck (Pagano started), not coming in here and saying, 'This is my team, I'm changing up everything,' " said Freeney. "He believed a lot of what Chuck believes in. He continues the same things and traditions that Chuck instilled here, the mindset on how to go out and prepare and believe in the process. He's done a tremendous job."