Staying grounded is how the Colts do it

INDIANAPOLIS -- You have to go back almost three years -- December 2010 -- to find the last time the Indianapolis Colts sat atop the AFC South all by themselves.

A certain quarterback -- you know, the one who can’t be stopped in Denver right now -- named Peyton Manning was leading the way for the Colts then. The current quarterback, Andrew Luck, was still at Stanford, finishing runner-up for the Heisman.

The Colts are back on top of the division. Not many people thought that would be the case when the season started. Not with Houston, a team some called a Super Bowl contender, in the division. Not after Miami beat the Colts in Week 2. And not after playing games against San Francisco and Seattle in two of their first five games.

But here the Colts sit in first place, looking down at Tennessee, the struggling Texans and, oh yeah, the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.

You would never know the Colts are in first place in their division based off their comments.

This is a team that doesn’t get full of itself.

The closest they came to feeling good about themselves occurred late Monday afternoon when coach Chuck Pagano was asked about beating the 49ers and Seahawks this season.

“I guess if you polled the coaches and the players you’d have to feel good about yourself winning,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. Beating quality opponents builds confidence.”

The Colts constantly talk about staying humble, grounded and not getting ahead of themselves because they know all the success they’ve had going back to last season can quickly change.

Their go-to phrase is “Next Man Up” when talking about a player going down with an injury. It’s not a matter of if somebody will say it, it’s how many people -- from the coaching staff to the players -- will say it when a player is injured.

And the Colts have been hit with quite a few injuries this season.

Donald Thomas. Vick Ballard. Dwayne Allen. Ahmad Bradshaw. LaRon Landry. Bjoern Werner.

The list goes on but we’ll stop there.

The Colts don’t give excuses. They simply go out and play because they approach each game and each practice the same no matter who steps on the field for them.

“This is the most resilient team that I’ve been around,” Pagano said. “They got more grit than anybody, any team that I’ve ever been around.”

Don’t expect the Colts to suddenly change their demeanor anytime soon. It’s not in them. The veterans won’t allow it and Pagano proved two weeks ago that he’s determined to keep his team humble. He brought out some laughs while also getting his message across when he placed mousetraps in each player’s locker to make sure they didn’t slip up against the winless Jaguars after winning at San Francisco.

The Colts have a 24-hour rule. Enjoy a victory for 24 hours then leave it behind so you can focus on the next opponent.

“You start reading your own press clippings and patting yourself on the back, you’re just setting yourself up for failure,” Pagano said.

The Colts still have unfinished business. There are 11 games remaining on their schedule. They won’t even talk about what will be the biggest game of the season -- when Manning returns to Indianapolis for the first time on Oct. 20. If the Colts and Broncos win this weekend it’ll be 5-1 Indianapolis against 6-0 Denver on that Sunday night.

But first things first, the Colts have to worry about the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 14. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Like we always have been saying, building that monster,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Right now, five games in, but it’s still a long season. We still got to keep them up on one another and just take it one week at a time. Like I said, it’s still a long season. We got to continue to do what we’ve been doing.”