Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton was Indy’s top WR this season and enters today’s wild-card game with 82 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns. (Reuters)
Playoff experience means something in the NFL.
For most of the Indianapolis Colts, that experience came in last year’s AFC wild-card game at Baltimore. The Colts were in contention for most of the afternoon before finally succumbing 24-9 to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Ravens.
Indianapolis trailed 17-9 heading into the fourth quarter. An 18-yard scoring toss from Joe Flacco to Anguan Boldin provided the winning margin for Baltimore.
The game was also memorable for who wasn’t there. Former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went on to earn Co-NFL Coach of the Year honors with Chuck Pagano, wasn’t on the sidelines after becoming ill earlier in the day and was taken to a local hospital.
Whether having Arians around for the game would have made that much of a difference is open to discussion, although probably not. The Colts were a young team that had made tremendous amount of progress over a short period of time and under trying circumstances.
Pagano had missed most of last season after being hospitalized for leukemia and had only returned to the sidelines for the final two games of the season.
Fast forward to this year. Indianapolis heads into the 2013 postseason with an identical 11-5 record as last year. But this time around, the Colts are at home and will have its full complement of coaches. And they’ve got a playoff game already under their belts.
First comes the Kansas City Chiefs, a team Indianapolis defeated 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago. The Colts and Chiefs will square off at Lucas Oil Stadium today.
Pagano can’t wait.
“Hopefully we’ll have our whole staff available. That’s first and foremost. So hopefully we wake up (today) and nobody is getting carted off to the hospital. That’ll help, number one. No. 2, I think players, coaches, everybody has got a year under their belt. So you know a little bit more what to expect,” the Colts head coach voiced.
“Again, it’s playoffs. It’s one and done. We know that. We know it’s a tournament type of atmosphere, all those things. We’re just going to prepare like we always prepare and try to go play better than we did last week.”
Thoughts on the game?
“Well, I got a few more games under my belt. I don’t know. I guess as prepared as you can be going into this one. I don’t know. I guess time will tell,” Pagano previewed, adding that he doesn’t think what happened two weeks ago in Kansas City will have any bearing on how today’s matchup will go.
“I can’t predict how that thing’s going to go. I just know that we’re not expecting the same type of ball game. We’re going to prepare for them the same way we did, but how the game’s going to go, how it’s going to start, how it’s going to end, I can’t predict that. All I know is we’re going to try and do the things that we need to do in all areas, all three phases, play great situational football, take care of the ball, try to take the ball away, be good on third down, try to control the clock, field position, all those things are going to play a huge factor.”
Slowing down Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and being able to pass protect against Kansas City’s front seven on defense will be keys to what happens. Indianapolis limited Charles to 106 yards rushing the last time the two teams met. But he went for over 200 yards on the ground last season against the Colts.
“We called him public enemy No. 1 and he still is. (He totaled) 1,900-plus yards from scrimmage, 1,287 I think rushing and 693 out of the backfield receiving yards, 19 touchdowns, didn’t play the last game. First and foremost that’s the guy that you’ve got to take away,” Pagano explained.
“They’ve got other skilled athletes we know on the outside in Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe and (Dexter) McCluster can beat you. Knile Davis coming in as a change of pace guy running it and the quarterback (Alex Smith) can certainly beat you. But it all starts with Jamaal. We got to do a great job containing him, try to slow him down.”
And the Kansas City defense?
“Again, it always starts up front, offensive and defensive line. This game is always won in the trenches. (The Colts offensive line has) got a huge challenge with this team coming in here,” he said.
“They’ve got a great front seven, you look at (Mike) DeVito, (Dontari) Poe and (Tyson) Jackson in the middle and (Tamba) Hali and (Justin) Houston on the outside. They’re going to bring pressure from all levels. Huge challenge in both trying to run the football and protect the quarterback.”