INDIANAPOLIS – When the Indianapolis Colts met in an Anderson University classroom to kickoff the start of training camp, Chuck Pagano had a message for his 2013 squad.
Pagano knew that many of the players and coaches in the room still remembered the bitter feeling they felt in Baltimore some eight months earlier.
He wanted that to motivate them, but realize the opportunity that lied ahead.
"One shot. We're not guaranteed anything. We're not guaranteed tomorrow," Pagano says recalling his message.
"All we were really guaranteed the way the NFL is was the 2013 season. And then if we were fortunate enough and play well enough to get into the postseason, that's all we were really guaranteed. So let's pour everything that we have into this season. It's like this game, there is no tomorrow, so we will not leave anything out on that field."
That field will be the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium as the Colts earned the right to host their first home playoff game since 2010 thanks to capturing the AFC South.
Even with the division wrapped up, the Colts put together a three-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
It was some of the best football of the year for the Colts as an attacking Colts defense complimented an offense that had playmakers emerge behind a protective offensive line.
One of those wins came two weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs. In a playoff atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium, Colts controlled time of possession in a 23-7 road victory against the Chiefs.
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith had his worst game of the season thanks to a Colts defense forcing four turnovers.
For the most part, the Colts kept the electric Jamaal Charles (19 touches for 144 yards) in check, outside of his 31-yard touchdown run on the Chiefs opening drive.
Pagano expects a heavy dose of Charles, the Chiefs leading rushing and receiver, on Saturday.
"It takes all 11 in the run game, pass game," Pagano said of neutralizing Charles. "It's a matter of studying and preparing. Hopefully, we've got real heady guys and it takes a bunch of guys to get that guy down in the open field. It all starts with recognition, reading and reacting and trusting your keys and doing your job."
While containing Charles will be priority No. 1 for the Colts defense, the offense will be looking to maintain the production its shown the past few weeks.
In adapting to the loss of Reggie Wayne, the offense has played its best football in two months thanks to a clean pocket for Luck and multiple weapons on the outside.
Luck believes the Colts are playing their best football of 2013 and is anxious for another crack at the ultimate goal.
"The chance to win the big one," Luck says of what he loves about the playoffs. "That's exciting. It's fun to be in the playoffs. I feel fortunate to be a part of a team that's done it these past two years."
Over the course of the last 16 weeks, a total of 73 players (the most in the NFL) have donned the horseshoe.
Through significant attrition and a season that has included four wins over the NFL's elite, the calendar is now in January and the Colts are still playing.
The 2013 NFL sack champion Robert Mathis did not hesitate when addressing the goal for the journey over the next month.
"We want to win a Super Bowl. Point. Blank. Period," Mathis said. "Getting to the playoffs is an accomplishment but that's not what we signed up for. We signed up for New York, so that's our goal. That's our only goal."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSChiefs running back Jamaal Charles versus the Colts defense:Charles was blunt and honest in a conference call this week in saying, 'If you stop the run, you stop the Chiefs.' However, 'stopping' Charles is a major task. He led the AFC in rushing this season and his elusiveness will be accentuated on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. Good news for Colts fans is the defensive line appears to be very healthy with Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois practicing all week.Colts offensive line versus the Chiefs front seven: The Colts offensive line is healthy. Chuck Pagano will have a decision to make on who he lines up in the interior of the Colts offensive line come Sunday. The line has been tremendous in the last three weeks, allowing just 3 sacks of Andrew Luck in his last 152 pass attempts. It looks like the Chiefs will get Pro Bowl sack leader Justin Houston back but fellow co-sack leader Tamba Hali might be limited as he hasn't practiced all week due to a knee injury.Quick Facts
-Since 2012, the Colts are 15-2 in one possession games. Their .822 winning percentage is the best in the NFL.
-Colts safety Antoine Bethea is one interception away from tying the Colts postseason record for most picks (5).
-Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis (19.5 sacks) will play in his 17th career playoff game on Saturday. He's two away from tying the club record for most playoff games played with the Colts.
-The Chiefs are looking for their first playoff win since 1994.
-The Chiefs set an NFL record with a 29.9-yard kickoff return average this season
-The Chiefs had 11 touchdowns off miscellaneous returns this year
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on if he expects Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles to get a larger dose of carries on Sunday):
-"If you just look at his numbers, 13 touches in the run game for 106 yards, you would have to say if I was Coach Reid and the rest of your staff I would say, especially in an environment if it's going to be loud and the game warrants that you can stick with the run, I'm sure we're going to see Jamaal. If he doesn't touch the ball 30 times I'd be shocked."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on how he expects this game to be different from the team's first meeting):
-"I can't predict how that thing's going to go. I just know that we're not expecting the same type of ball game. We're going to prepare for them the same way we did, but how the game's going to go, how it's going to start, how it's going to end, I can't predict that. All I know is we're going to try and do the things that we need to do in all areas, all three phases, play great situational football, take care of the ball, try to take the ball away, be good on third down, try to control the clock, field position, all those things are going to play a huge factor."Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on the intensity of a playoff game):
-"The biggest thing is that this is a whole new season. The regular season is over, period. It's the third season of our journey in 2013. It's the most important season because we don't have tomorrow. Any mistake that you make, very big or small, can be the outcome of a game that can be a great, historic, heroic play or could be the cost of us losing the game. You have to be on details. This is a playoff game. It's a big atmosphere. We're glad to be in it."Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid(on the uniqueness in playing a team twice in three weeks):
-"You know each other a bit better than the first time you played. I think it comes down to who executes the best, who can eliminate the mistakes or who has the least amount of mistakes and who scores the most points, right? That's kind of what it comes down to. There is somewhat of a familiarity there as far as scheme and players."Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid(on what he would like to change from the team's first meeting):
-"Obviously the turnovers. If you're a good football team, you can't turn the football over."Chiefs Running Back Jamaal Charles(on what's different about the mindset for the Chiefs this time around):
-"Oh man, just it's the playoffs now. Whatever happened last weekend really doesn't matter. It's a new season. You get out there, the records are 0-0. We got to play faster, play harder than them. Do what they did better than us last game they played, they played way better than us. They beat us in all phases. Defense, they played harder and tougher than us and we didn't do that on offense. We just got to play to their level."