INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts enjoyed a perfect bye weekend.
Players spent time with their families. They got a chance to relax a bit and ponder this season’s final sprint.
Now it’s time to get back to work — and back in the playoff hunt.
“We have to win,” safety Mike Adams said Monday. “You look around the league and playoff football has already started. So we have to do what we have to do to win.”
It sure hasn’t been easy to do that this season.
The Colts (4-5) still haven’t won consecutive games, have dealt with myriad injuries and have heard a drumbeat of criticism over their repeated mistakes.
Indy’s surprising victory at Green Bay to open November changed everything. Before heading home, players looked at ease, coach Chuck Pagano was smiling and everyone was eager to begin their final seven-game sprint to the finish.
When they returned to the team complex Monday, everyone was still upbeat.
“It was a great opportunity for guys to get away, to let their bodies heal, to mentally refresh,” tight end Dwayne Allen said. “We’ve been at it since July 26 or something and that’s a long time. So we needed the break.”
Of course, the first order of business after returning was checking in with team doctors.
Pagano did not address reporters Monday, but what happened on the practice field spoke volumes about the health of the team. Left guard Jack Mewhort (triceps) and defensive tackle Henry Anderson (knee) returned to practice after both missed the past three games. Right tackle Joe Reitz was wearing a non-contact jersey as he continues to progress through the concussion protocol.
Now the Colts are onto their next opponent, Tennessee (5-5). The Titans have won two in a row and can put themselves in solid playoff position by snapping a 10-game losing streak to Indianapolis and winning for the first time at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The rejuvenated Colts have other ideas, especially now that they seem to have some momentum.
“It’s real important,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said of the new attitude. “That momentum can take guys far.”
Nobody in the locker room expects a few days off to be a cure-all.
Indy understands it must reduce the penalties and sacks and find ways to keep the offense on the field and the defense off it. The Colts also realize that to get back in the postseason chase they must start playing more consistently in all phases.
If they do all that, perhaps they can take advantage of a schedule that looks softer now than it has all season. Their three remaining division games are all at home and they face only three teams with winning records — Houston (6-3), Minnesota (5-4) and Oakland (7-2).
Put together a winning streak and the Colts could claw their way back into the mix for a third division title in four years — and possibly avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1997 and 1998.
But they can’t afford to regress any more.
Instead, they must find a way to build off the momentum they had last week and fix their flaws.
“We’ve got to win,” Adams said. “We can’t this have roller coaster stuff going on. We had time to regroup, time to get this consistency out of here and we’ve got to believe we can do it.”