“I’m the only guy that had a little bounce in his step this morning,” he said with a laugh, “because I’ve been laying around for three months and had plenty of coffee.”
Pagano’s version of laying around isn’t quite the norm, given his ongoing battle with leukemia, but his point was well made. Every NFL team lacks a certain freshness this time of year.
Even so, with nothing on the line Sunday, Pagano and the Colts will take a business-as-usual approach to their regular-season finale with the Houston Texans. There will be no resting of starters or older veterans as the team seeks to build momentum heading into the postseason.
“It’s just not in our DNA,” Pagano said. “From day one, we set goals for ourselves. Just watching what this team has done over the course of the last 12 weeks and the entire season, it’s just not in our DNA, it’s not in our makeup. These kids deserve it, their families deserve it, our fans in the city deserve our best ever game regardless of the situation, regardless of the circumstances. They’re going to roll the ball out there and it’s our job to go out there and try to win a football game and that’s what we’re going to try to do. …
“You want to win, you want to win at home and you want to go into the playoffs with momentum. Regardless how this team has gotten to the point that it’s at right now, 10-5 and made the playoffs, we want to keep the momentum going and we want to keep these young guys coming along because they just keep getting better every week. To rest guys, so to speak, or pull back right now, frankly I don’t think we have enough numbers to rest anybody.”
Starting center Samson Satele and running back Delone Carter, both with ankle injuries, will not play. Others that missed this past Sunday’s 20-13 victory in Kansas City, including safety Tom Zbikowski (knee), linebacker Kavell Conner (hamstring), nose tackle Antonio Johnson (ankle) and offensive tackle Winston Justice (biceps) will be monitored closely at practice this week but have not been ruled out.
At 10-5, the Colts are locked into the fifth seed and that cannot change regardless the outcome Sunday. The Texans (12-3) are in a battle with Denver (12-3) and New England (11-4) for the top seed.
“I’ve been in this situation a lot and we’ve taken it different ways,” said rush linebacker Dwight Freeney. “Every year is kind of unique. Whether you agree with it or not, there is something to be said about keeping your momentum going, just still going out there and working your craft. It can be a positive thing.
“Obviously you have guys that are banged-up and who shouldn’t play. I don’t think they’ll play. But guys that can play should play. I don’t know how long, don’t know if it’s going to be a whole-game scenario, but that’s something for the coaching staff to decide. I know for me it’s definitely stay sharp. I don’t have a problem playing. You’re risking getting hurt but that’s the nature of what it is, this game.”
Freeney, who has played most of the season with a high ankle sprain that he said still gives him problems, and quarterback Andrew Luck are two players that might benefit the most from some extra rest. Luck has taken 40 sacks — including three from Houston’s J.J. Watt two weeks ago — and appears to be showing the effects, completing less than half his attempts in four straight games.
“He’ll tell you that he’s fine,” Pagano said of Luck. “He’s gotten knocked around a little bit but he’d be the first to tell you he could do some things to help himself, throw a ball away and not take a shot here and there. With Andrew and everyone else from the coaches across the board, everyone looks a little bit tired to me. … I think he’s doing OK? Is he 100 percent? I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. But he’ll be fine.”
You get the sense the players, even those that could use the time off, don’t want to dial it back for Pagano’s return.
“This is where he’s supposed to be and this is where he is,” Freeney said. “Coach is back, it’s business as usual from my standpoint.”