Colts are playing their best at the right time

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts were a team without an identity about a month ago. The running game didn't have much traction. The offensive line had its own problems. The defense was getting roasted on almost a regular basis. Stringing together consecutive wins had become a foreign concept to them.

You're excused if you have no recollection of those things happening.

The Colts, you know, the ones that didn't look they had a chance of winning a game in the playoffs, aren't that same team.

They're a team that's playing with the same confidence it had when it won three in a row and four out of five games early in the season.

And they picked the best time to get it going, with the playoffs starting next weekend.

"The playoffs, most times, are about momentum," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "We've been able to generate some of that, so we have to keep going into the postseason."

It hasn't been an easy road to this point for the Colts. They know it, too. They never made excuses for missing five key offensive players, including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, before the midpoint of the season or that quarterback Andrew Luck had to make due with basically a bare cupboard of receivers.

They stuck together, never pointed fingers at each other and did their best to tread water until they figured out how to best use what they had on the roster.

That mindset worked. The Colts won 11 games for the second straight season and they're headed back to the playoffs for the second straight season. The difference being they'll be at home for the first game and they're going into it on a three-game winning streak.

"All we did as a group of players and coaches was made a decision that we weren't going to live in circumstances," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We were going to live in vision. We were going to go to work. Again, hats off to the players and hats off to the coaches. But it's the guys. It's their resiliency. They don't read the clippings, good or bad, listen to talk radio and all that stuff and everybody telling them what they can't do. We always talk about faith is believing in something that you can't see and the reward is if you believe in it long enough, you'll probably get to see it. Our journey continues and we're very excited to be in the playoffs."

For as much as Luck deserves credit for leading the Colts back to the playoffs, the defense deserves almost just much credit for leading the late-season turnaround.

Linebacker Jerrell Freeman got it started Sunday when he caused Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to fumble on the opening series of the game. Cornerback Darius Butler recovered the ball at Jacksonville's 42-yard line.

Indianapolis used the short field to its advantage and scored eight plays later.

The Colts, who beat Jacksonville 30-10 on Sunday, had three sacks and forced two turnovers to bring their total to 11 sacks and eight turnovers during the winning streak.

"We had our ups and downs earlier, but we're on a good roll," Freeman said. "We're getting hot now and that's all that matters. That's how you want it."

Speaking of things that happened earlier in the season, do you remember when offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was steadfast in making the Colts a run-first team?

I didn't think so.

The Colts switched things up the past three games by putting Luck in control of the offense in the shotgun and using a no-huddle offense. They had their second best quarter of the season Sunday when they scored 17 points in the first quarter.

"The up-tempo, the no-huddle's been good," Luck said. "We've practiced it since OTAs, we've always had it but it seems to be working now. I think that combined with being able to get in big people and get those third-and-shorts. Switch out personnel, different formations, up-tempo, I think it's good for our offense and it managed to work again. So I guess we're executing well with it."

Of course you're probably asking: What took Hamilton so long to use an up-tempo offense?

It's not that it didn't cross Hamilton's mind, but it's a tough thing to do when the receivers are struggling and the defense can't force turnovers.

"I think continuity, chemistry, the young guys come around from a receiver-standpoint," Pagano said. "I think the quarterback is obviously feeling a lot more comfortable. Again, everybody is loading the box on us and challenging the young wide receivers. The quarterback has done a great job of managing the game, taking care of the football and we know how special a player and leader Andrew is. He can make those throws. We've got some guys making some huge plays and some huge contributions."