INDIANAPOLIS –When Chuck Pagano assembled his first team as a head coach during the spring, he told players the expectation was to win.
Pagano and his staff established a belief system and an ethic that is paying dividends as a young Indianapolis team earned its fourth straight win, its second consecutive on the road, with a 27-10 triumph in Jacksonville on Thursday night.
A team featuring 33 players in their first year with the team as well as 32 with no more than three years league experience took its first steps onto a national stage in besting the Jaguars.
"Obviously we're real excited about getting a road win in our division – basically staying in the hunt," said Arians, now 5-1 in subbing for Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who has been out since late September in battling leukemia. "It wasn't the best game for 60 minutes, but it was one of our better efforts.
"I knew the turnovers were going to come sooner or later and they did. That's one thing Chuck (Pagano) and I talked about this week. He said, 'Just sit tight and don't talk about it and it's not going to happen,' but they did, and they were big."
While the Colts extended a long winning streak, they had not forced a turnover since October 7 against Green Bay. The defense snared three takeaways against Jacksonville.
The Colts offense was a big story. A week after rolling to 516 yards, including an NFL rookie record 433 passing yards by quarterback Andrew Luck, the club's first overall pick set a franchise record at his position for seasonal rushing scores.
Luck tallied on five- and one-yard scoring runs in the victory, giving him five on the season and ahead of the previous club mark shared by Bert Jones (1974) and Peyton Manning (2001, 2006). It was the second time this year Luck has scored twice rushing in a game. He did it also against Cleveland, the first win in the four-game streak.
For the contest, Indianapolis rushed 37 times for 138 yards. It is the third time during the streak Indianapolis has rushed for at least 138 yards. The 148 yards against Cleveland, 171 against Tennessee and 138 at Jacksonville are the season's three highest rushing totals.
On the club's last scoring drive, Indianapolis rushed on seven of nine plays, milking nearly six minutes off the clock before Adam Vinatieri booted a field goal with about three minutes to play.
"It was a good feeling to run the ball that many times on the drive, go down the field and put points on the board," said guard Joe Reitz. We wanted to get seven points there, but the fact we ran the ball and chewed up the clock, that was big."
Reitz was making his second start, and the line was in transition at Jacksonville. Center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice were down with injuries, opening up playing time for A.Q. Shipley and Jeff Linkenbach at those respective positions. The line has been resilient in the wake of injury and productive lately with a dedicated approach on the ground.
"I think it's great. We've been running the ball and Coach Arians has been calling the run. We've been continuing to improve weekly as a line," said Reitz. "We really had guys step up this week like A.Q. Shipley. Link (Jeff Linkenbach) came in and did a great job. It's always great to get a road win. We'll continue to build on this win."
Luck has garnered headlines throughout the year with his play, and Reitz is just one player happy to see the team's young signal-caller blossom.
"He just continues to do something amazing and different every week," said Reitz. "It really is fun to have him back there. One week he'll throw it around all over the place, and the next week he'll run for two touchdowns. He continues to impress and do great things. We're happy to be blocking in front of him."
The team now is 6-3 and firmly making a run as the season progresses. The Colts trail AFC South leader Houston (7-1) and will keep approaching the season in weekly increments.
Luck was 18-of-26 for 227 yards passing, with one interception at Jacksonville. At one point, he completed nine consecutive first-half passes. Luck teamed with six different receivers, including Reggie Wayne eight times for 96 yards. It was the 57th straight game Wayne has had at least three receptions.
"It's been great," said Wayne to the NFL Network about playing with Luck. "He's come in and done an outstanding job. I'm just glad to be on his side. He's been able to do some things I'm not used to.
"He's been able to use his legs, get out of the pocket and extend plays. I think he throws better when he's on the run. I want to help him be the best he can. Whenever he calls my number, I want make sure I'm there to help deliver, keep winning games with him."
The Colts now are three games over .500 for the first time since late in the 2010 season, a period when most of the current players and coaches were toiling in other locations.
The six wins triple last season's total, but Pagano set the tone early – believe and achieve. While observers take note of a team that has accomplished more than most outside opinions forecasted, Luck told the network there is more work to be done.
"In the locker room, we have a lot of confidence in ourselves," said Luck. We're preparing to win football games. We don't prepare to lose football games. It's great to be where we are. We also realize it's on the right path, but it's nowhere near the end goal."