FORT WAYNE – So now January, the playoffs, a few more twists in the plot from whatever mad novelist has taken over the Indianapolis Colts outlandish tale.
This weeks installment?
Colts vs. Ravens, in Baltimore, the Colts own ancestral home.
Where Chuck Pagano, the Horseshoes head coach/unquenchable guiding spirit, got his break as a coordinator, which ultimately brought him to Indianapolis.
Where Jim Caldwell, the previous Colts head coach, is now the offensive coordinator.
Where, the last time the Colts won a Super Bowl, they beat the Ravens along the way.
You could say it doesnt get any more bizarre than that, but of course this season passed bizarre a bunch of miles back.
Nothing shocks me anymore, Pagano concurred this week.
And, no, not his team, either, which goes a long toward explaining why theyve won 11 games in a season you literally couldnt make up. Now its on to Baltimore, where Ray Lewis may be playing the last game of a decorated 17-year career, and where the fearsome Ravens defense cant wait to get at Andrew Luck, whos thrown 13 of his 18 interceptions away from Lucas Oil Stadium. Who picks the Colts, given all that?
On the other hand why not, given everything thats happened?
They talk a lot about respecting the process in this locker room, and if thats been the conscious design of Pagano and Bruce Arians and the coaching staff, its also been something organic, too, a survival mechanism in a season without the usual landmarks. If you respect the process, the process becomes all. If you move with blinders on from point-to-point-to-point, everything else going on around you fades to insignificance.
I dont think you can wholesale change anything, Luck said. Weve been very successful up to this point, so I just think we have to stick with the same process, the same preparation. Its Wednesday today, so well worry about Wednesday.
Were not going to worry about what may happen Sunday.
Only what, by this point, they almost expect to happen.
Were here to play now. Were not building for next year and years to come, says tight end Dwayne Allen.
Were playing like we want to go far in the playoffs, cornerback Vontae Davis concurs.
And you, Dwight Freeney?
Obviously, were doing tremendous things with a lot of young guys, he said this week. I dont know if theres a record or what to that. I have no idea. But we set goals at the beginning of the year. It wasnt just to get to this point and thats it.
And so onward. Toward whatever mad plot twist awaits next.
I cant explain (this season), Pagano says. None of those guys can explain it. Were just kind of riding the wave, if you will.
Like I said before, were just going to stick to the process and do the same things weve been doing week in and week out You can get caught up in the playoff hype and all that other stuff, but at the end of the day, theyre going to kick that ball off and its still football. Field doesnt change, its a different team, you just pull the decals off and slap a different decal on there and youve got another 60-minute game to play.
4 KEY MATCHUPSAndrew Luck vs. Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed et al.: How Luck goes, the Colts will go, after a rookie season in which hes thrown for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns. But hes also been sacked 41 times, an average of 2.5 per game, and hes thrown 18 interceptions. And hes going up against an aging but still fearsome defense thats given up right at two touchdowns per game, has recorded 37 sacks and is a big reason why the Ravens are plus-9 in turnovers; the Colts are minus-12.
Ray Rice vs. Jerrell Freeman: With all due respect to Lewis, Freeman will be the best linebacker on the field Sunday. He leads the Colts with 145 total tackles, including 90 solos, and has two sacks and one interception. If he and his pals can shut down Rice, whos run for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns this season, itll be up to the sometimes-shaky Joe Flacco to beat them.
Reggie Wayne vs. Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, et al.: Waynes resurgent season (106 catches, 1,335 yards, 5 TDs) has been a big part of the Colts success, and hes the undisputed leader of the Colts young receiving corps. If Reed, Pollard – the South Side grad leads the Ravens in tackles with 98 – and their sidekicks can shut him down, Luck and the Colts offense could be in a world of hurt.
Flacco vs. Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, et al.: If the Colts can keep Rice from gashing them – and theyve been vulnerable to the run, giving up 137.5 rush yards per game – then it will be up to Mathis, Freeney and the Colts pass rushers to get pressure on Flacco. Hes only thrown 10 picks this season, but hes been sacked 35 times. If the Colts can get to him a couple of times, theyve got a chance against an offense that in the last seven weeks of the season scored 20 or fewer points five times.
When: 1 p.m. today