INDIANAPOLIS –Colts players and coaches return to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center today facing a near-mirror image of the challenge that awaited two weeks ago.
On October 29, they reported back to work after a road victory against a divisional foe and what stood ahead was a date with an AFC East opponent, Miami, which shared the 4-3 mark Indianapolis had earned with its win at Tennessee.
The Colts, 6-3, return today, albeit after a long weekend after playing last Thursday, coming off a divisional road win and face New England, the AFC East leader who on Sunday pushed its record to 6-3 with a 37-31 home win over Buffalo.
The Colts prepared for Miami by taking care of business one day at a time. The message that week for the first time was to "respect the process." The message came from Head Coach Chuck Pagano, through interim field leader Bruce Arians.
It was a direct message about handling success while gearing for another challenge.
"That's the whole focus this week, 'Don't read about yourself. Don't pat yourself on the back. Respect the process – of a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday and a Saturday, of how to prepare.' That doesn't change from week-to-week," said Arians during the week that happened to hold Halloween.
His advice to the team certainly was more treat than trick. "As long as you respect the process, you don't get caught into those peaks and valleys of, 'I'm good, I'm bad, I'm good, I'm bad.' Just keep (working). Don't change that routine, because it's been pretty good."
The advice paid dividends as the Colts beat Miami, 23-20, with one of their better efforts of the year. Arians repeated the message again last week as the Colts prepared to square the season series with Jacksonville.
"Just go to work. Don't worry about December, January, those are long-range goals," said Arians leading into the divisional rematch. "All we can do is control (today). We've got to respect the process each day, one play at a time, one day at a time, and then let the games come."
The Colts went to Jacksonville and further validated the win over Miami by earning a 27-10 victory over the Jaguars.
A team that had won five games by a total of 19 points, earning four with fourth-quarter comebacks, produced its largest margin of victory since week two of the 2010 season. The Colts did so by rushing for 138 yards, forcing three turnovers and jumping to a 17-0 lead before allowing any points.
The reward for such a performance is another week of being in the hunt. Prior to the Miami game, Indianapolis was one of seven AFC teams with four or more wins.
After beating the Dolphins, the Colts were one six conference teams with five or more wins. If Pittsburgh wins tonight while hosting Kansas City, each of those five teams will have been successful in keeping separation from the field.
Houston is 8-1 after topping Chicago, 13-6. Baltimore moved to 7-2 with a 55-20 home win over Oakland. Denver is 6-3 after a 36-14 win at Carolina.
Separation is a sliding scale. The competitive ground shifts weekly, and there are four AFC teams with four victories – Miami, Tennessee, Cincinnati and San Diego.
In the winning locker room at Jacksonville last Thursday, Arians told the squad he would see them today. It was a well-earned three-day break for a team on a four-game winning streak.
On Friday with the players resting, Arians stayed true to the message. Why buck the approach?
"You just have to respect the process. Everyone is going to want a piece of you," said Arians. "If they weren't here in August, then they don't get a piece now. It's just what you have to build. You don't change your routine. You don't start doing things you didn't do to get here.
"We talked about a lot last week about our journey and what a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday leading into a ballgame brings. We can't change that."
The Colts and Patriots have met 72 times in regular season play. Indianapolis and New England have met in the last nine regular seasons, including last year when New England earned a 31-24 home verdict over the Colts.
Only 20 Colts players remain on the active roster from that game. It is a radically re-created team that heads into Foxborough on Sunday.
Arians battled New England and Head Coach Bill Belichick many times while in Pittsburgh. He knows the defensive challenge that is ahead, along with facing a team that leads the league in scoring at 33.2 points per game.
"This will be a huge challenge, a perennial contender at their house," said Arians. "A lot of our veteran guys have been in that battle many, many times. They can tell the young guys what to expect, but half of our roster is going to experience it for the first time. We're really looking forward to it."