Can one win really transform the Colts from a young team in rebuilding mode into a playoff contender? To be more specific, can one half do that?
It just might.
It’s popular at the moment to look at the next five games against opponents with a combined record of 6-19 – the Jets (2-3), Browns (0-5), Titans (1-4), Dolphins (2-3) and Jaguars (1-4) – as a legitimate opportunity for the Colts to get on a roll.
That it is.
But keep looking.
The rest of this season, they have just three games against teams that currently have winning records: two with the Texans and one with the Patriots. Their final 12 opponents are a combined 24-35.
In the interest of transparency, when the season began I anticipated a ceiling of six victories for these Colts. After the Jacksonville loss, that number seemed a bit high. But something happened to this team this past Sunday afternoon in Lucas Oil Stadium, and the sense is it was not just emotion, not just adrenaline, not just conviction that carried them past the Packers.
In the second half, the Colts didn’t need miracle plays or shocking turns of events to come back. They simply sharpened their focus and outplayed the mighty Packers. Frankly, they looked like the better team, executing more crisply, playing more aggressively.
There also is this: the quarterback is the real deal.
Everybody knew he had talent, intellect, all the tangibles that add up to an elite prospect. What his coaches and teammates needed to see was Andrew Luck’s competitive fire, his drive to succeed, his natural ability to lead.
I figured Luck would need at least one season, maybe two, to settle into a productive rhythm. Turns out, he barely needed training camp. The first rookie quarterback in league history to pass for at least 1,200 yards and win twice in his first four games, Luck has very quickly established himself as the new sheriff in town.
And as long as Luck has time on the clock and Reggie Wayne on the field, you get the very real sense the Colts have a pretty decent chance of finding the end zone.
It is important to remain grounded, however. In the NFL, things can come undone very quickly. Lose to the Jets and this bubble of optimism would burst.
Bruce Arians knows. The interim coach warned his team of just that. The Green Bay game showed the Colts how good they can be; it also illustrated how bad. This past Sunday was in no small part fueled by the emotional feelings for coach Chuck Pagano as he battles leukemia. Moving forward, beginning this week, it must be about nothing other than the business at hand.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt the last 30 minutes is a standard that we’ve set for ourselves now,” he said. “We played smarter, we played faster, we played up to our ability. Now, we have to maintain that.
“I told the guys this car can not have a rear-view mirror. We can’t look back at this moment and pat ourselves on the back or we’ll get our butts kicked by the Jets.”
To their credit, the players are having none of this happy talk, at least not publicly. Their focus is not on the destination, but the next stop on the journey.
“I couldn’t tell you honestly,” Luck said, “who we have after New York.”
Here’s what they have — what they have given themselves: a chance.