INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Colts locker room is suddenly returning to normal.
Players were cracking jokes and cranking up the music Monday and the somber attitude that was around the past two weeks is gone.
All it took was one win to put everything in perspective.
“We’re too young into the season to have a ‘victory Monday,'” tight end Dwayne Allen said, referring to coach Chuck Pagano’s traditional reward — an extra day off. “But it (the win) definitely energized us on the plane ride home. It was a lot of fun, and there was a lot of energy in the building today.”
The next challenge is to keep that momentum rolling this weekend when the Colts host division rival Tennessee (1-2).
But in Indianapolis, this was a brand new experience.
Never before in the Andrew Luck-Pagano era had the Colts lost back-to-back games. Since 1999, the Colts had only opened 0-2 one other time. And after hearing all the talk about the low percentage of teams that make the playoffs after an 0-2 start and the even worse percentage for teams that go 0-3, the Colts were determined to remove themselves from that discussion.
They succeeded with an impressive 44-17 rout at winless Jacksonville on Sunday.
“It makes everything feel better,” Luck said. “It’s good to have a win, but you realize it’s just one and we’ve got to get our home record back on track now.”
Indianapolis (1-2) certainly appeared to take a major step forward.
Luck finished 31 of 39 for 370 yards with four touchdowns, a 140.4 quarterback rating and no turnovers for the first time this season. He benefited again from a strong ground game. Indy has rushed for 313 yards in the last two weeks.
Indy’s defense, which was gashed by Peyton Manning early in the season opener and wore down late against Philadelphia’s fast-break offense, proved almost impenetrable against the Jaguars in the first half, held tight in the second half and finished with four sacks — three more than they had in their first two games combined.
The result: Indy pulled within one game of division-leading Houston and put the fun back in the locker room.
“You know, winning has that kind of effect,” defensive end Cory Redding said with a smile.
But there’s plenty to fix, too.
While Luck has reduced his interception total each week and had nine different receivers with at least two catches Sunday, he is still getting sacked and hit too often. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is emerging as a dual threat with three TD receptions in the past two games, but the Colts still need Trent Richardson to become a bigger presence in a budding ground game.
The defense needs to cut down its penalties, one of which negated a safety Sunday, and is still looking for a more consistent pass rush.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep them from becoming complacent after a victory,” Pagano said. “We’ve got to do a great job of making sure we don’t take our foot off the gas and keep trying to get better.”
After opening the season with back-to-back games against defending division champs, the Colts won’t face another 2013 playoff team on the road all season. Plus, they’ll play three of their next four — Tennessee, Baltimore and Cincinnati — at home.
The way the Colts see things, they got their postseason aspirations righted Sunday. What they must do now is stay there by keeping things in sync inside and outside the locker room.
“We didn’t have to go out and reinvent the wheel,” Allen said. “We just had to go out and play our game.”
Notes: Pagano said receiver T.Y. Hilton could be limited in Wednesday’s practice with an injured ankle but he sounded hopeful that Hilton would play against the Titans. … Linebacker Andy Studebaker will be day-to-day, Pagano said, after hurting his hamstring during Sunday’s game.
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