INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When coach Chuck Pagano arrived home after Saturday’s playoff victory, he tried to settle down.
Instead, he settled in for the reality that the Colts aren’t finished yet.
“You’re able to go home and sit on the couch, turn the TV on and find out that it did happen. It is real. It wasn’t surreal,” Pagano said Sunday, less than 24 hours after his team pulled off the second-greatest comeback in playoff history.
“Those guys, our players, they lay it on the line week in and week out. They truly left nothing, nothing, out there.”
The shocking turnaround, from a 38-10 second-half deficit to 45-44 victory over the Chiefs, left Indianapolis spent both physically and mentally, linebacker Jerrell Freeman said.
Indianapolis (12-5) will next play at New England next weekend in the divisional round.
Those are the results of this monumental victory.
But a rare non-game day Sunday also gave the Colts a brief chance to reflect on what had been accomplished.
— They won their first postseason game without Peyton Manning since January 1996.
— They won their first postseason game without Manning or Jim Harbaugh behind center since John Unitas was the starter in 1971.
— They became the first NFL team in playoff history to win despite giving up 40 points and losing four turnovers.
— And they did it all with Andrew Luck leading the way on a less than stellar day.
How? By following Pagano’s long-standing mantra of playing hard until the final whistle and never losing faith in their aptly-named quarterback.
“Hey, he does it all. As long as we continue to get the ball to him, we know some kind of way he’s going to put points on the board, that offense is going to get rolling,” Freeman said, referring to Luck.
“(Offensive coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) has a lot of different schemes. I’m sure y’all see it, they can do it in the passing game and the run game. It’s great to have a quarterback like that.”
It’s not just Luck, though.
These Colts thrive on debunking conventional wisdom.
When they started the rebuilding process after the 2011 season with a first-time general manager, a first-time head coach, a rookie quarterback and no Manning, they were considered one of the worst teams in football.
They wound up winning 11 games and making the playoffs even with Pagano missing 12 games to battle leukemia.
This summer, when some said Indy would regress in terms of wins against a tougher schedule, the Colts still wound up winning 11 and captured their first AFC South title without Manning.
And on Saturday, after trailing by 28 with 28½ minutes remaining and everybody else giving up on them, the Colts still believed.
NFL sacks champ Robert Mathis walked to the bench and slammed his helmet, then stewed stoically on the bench waiting for his next chance as Luck took the field one more time.
Saturday marked the 11th time he led the Colts to a winning score in the fourth quarter or overtime over the past two seasons — more than any other quarterback in the NFL.
And after Saturday, even the outsiders are beginning to wonder if there’s anything Luck can’t do.
Pagano and his players already know the answer.
“I don’t know what level it is, but he sure went to another one (Saturday),” Pagano said. “He’s a guy that is able to put things behind him in a hurry.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys on either side of the ball have some poor plays here and there whether it’s a quarterback and you throw three interceptions, you come right out of the half and you’re gunned up and ready to go play good football and boom, you start the second half the way we started the second half. The guy is just strong-minded that way.”
The Colts know he’s not going to change his style now with another big game coming up, and Luck’s teammates aren’t about to change their philosophies either.
“That was a crazy one to say the least. It took a lot out of us,” Freeman said. “That’s what we always preach, go play from the first play to the last play. It was definitely exhausting, but it was a great win.”
Notes: Pagano said he had no immediate updates on the three players who left Saturday’s game early. Cornerback Greg Toler re-injured his groin in the first half, safety LaRon Landry left in the fourth quarter with a concussion and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left during the second half with a leg injury. Pagano said Toler and Heyward-Bey were being evaluated and that Landry would have to go through the NFL’s concussion protocol.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org