Now that they’re in, the Indianapolis Colts are serious about the playoffs.
Not that they weren’t before. But after defying all expectations and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to get here, they are determined to do more of the same in the postseason.
They have no plans for an early exit. In fact, they have no exit strategy at all.
“It’s definitely not over by any means. We’re not happy just to be in,” rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said, echoing the prevailing locker room sentiment. “There’s an ongoing (mindset), just like every team in the playoffs, and we’re shooting for that goal. We’ll take it one week at a time.
“It is great to be in the playoffs for those veterans, but that’s not the end of the journey by any means.”
Rookie running back Vick Ballard agreed. He sees no reason why the fifth-seeded Colts’ season can’t extend their season beyond Sunday’s wild-card game at No. 4 Baltimore (10-6).
In fact, he expects them to.
“If you lose, you go home,” Ballard said. “We are definitely not ready to go home, so you prepare that much harder and (pay) more attention to detail.”
If it all sounds like hollow talk from a team that backed into the playoffs, listen closer.
Despite a revamped roster that features a wealth of first-, second- and third-year players, the Colts first talked about the postseason in training camp, then proceeded to play their way in.
Indianapolis won five of its final six regular-season games and never lost on back-to-back weeks.
It even had a chance to win the AFC South title late in the year and concluded the regular season with a 28-16 humbling of eventual division champion Houston.
Little wonder players don’t regard the postseason a pleasant surprise. Rather, its a destination they expected to reach.
“That’s the approach we’ve been taking this entire year,” rookie tight end Dwayne Allen said. “Coach (Chuck) Pagano told us before the season that we are not in a rebuilding phase. It’s more like reloading because we’re here to play now.
“We’re not building for next year and years to come, even though we plan to be successful in years to come. It’s about now.”
Linebackers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney couldn’t agree more. The elder statesmen of the Colts’ defense, they have a keen appreciation for what the young team has accomplished. Moreover, they are thrilled to be part of the ride.
“It’s very special because from the (beginning) people predicted us to be 1-15,” Mathis said, noting the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season. “So 11-5 and add (the playoffs) to it, it’s very special. We’re reaping the benefits of our labor. You never take it for granted. I would say that last year makes you appreciate winning even more.
“It’s never easy to win in the NFL. Last year was evidence of that.”
Although nothing has come easy for the Colts, they have found ways to win close games and, as a result, ride a wave of confidence and momentum into the postseason.
“You can’t take it for granted. The wins are hard to come by,” Freeney said. “But this is what we play for. It’s not just to win 10 games. It’s to be in the playoffs and to get to that game at the end.”
Baltimore just happens to be the first stop along the way for a team that continues to not only dream big but plays big in big moments. Where it plays and whom it plays are of no consequence.
“It doesn’t matter to us. We’ll play in the parking lot,” Freeney said. “We just want to go out there and play football and be in this dance, which we are, and just go out there and play against the best.”