Colts celebrate glory of Luck, return of Chuck
DEC 23, 2012 7:23p ET
Two head coaches, one battling cancer. A rookie at quarterback. A rookie at tailback. A total of 10 games decided by a touchdown or less. A 9-1 record in those 10 games.
"Been kind of the weirdest season ever," the Indianapolis linebacker chuckled after his Colts survived Kansas City, 20-13, to lock up a playoff berth on the AFC side of the bracket. "But I've never been a part of a team in the NFL that's this close."
Angerer likened the bond to that of a college team, a high school team. The Houston Texans have faux varsity letter jackets. The 10-5 Colts have each other.
"In professional football, guys are constantly coming in and coming out and stuff — you don't see that," said Angerer, who collected six tackles and forced a key red-zone fumble, stripping the ball from Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles late in the second quarter. "We've got such great leaders. Everybody's been welcoming each other, and everybody is there for each other. And you know, it's family. We genuinely care and appreciate one another."
Family takes care of its own, especially when the sledding gets rough. First-year quarterback Andrew Luck spent most of Sunday afternoon running for his life. A mediocre first half (10-of-18 passing) was followed by a miserable third quarter, in which he completed just 1 of 10 throws.
"I didn't think I could hit the broad side of a barn at that point," Luck said. "You've just got to stick with it. You don't get too down on bad things, or too high on good things. And guys stuck with me as well — didn't see anybody hanging their heads, (or) saying ‘Come on, you got to do this and this and this.'"
With the game tied at 13-all, Indy's Robert Mathis made a critical stop of Chiefs back Peyton Hillis for no gain on 4th-and-1, giving the ball back to the Colts at their own 27-yard line with 10:13 left in the contest. Luck misfired on his first attempt — then connected on the next six throws, capping the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to veteran Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone.
"(It) shows what type of quarterback he is," first-year wideout T.Y. Hilton said of Luck, who was 6-for-7 in the fourth quarter, piecing together his seventh fourth-quarter comeback of the season, a new NFL record for a rookie signal-caller. "Great guy, stays with it, stays poised. And under pressure, he just seems to come through. And that's what we love about him."
The final numbers weren't pretty — 17-of-35 passing for 205 yards — but they were enough to cinch another NFL rookie record, this one for passing yards in a season (4,183). It was the same mark Carolina's Cam Newton had broken just last year with 4,051 yards through the air.
"I think it definitely means something, and after the season, I'll have a chance to reflect back on it," Luck said. "So it's nice. Obviously, it's nicer to be in the playoffs, and know that (you're in). But yeah, it's nice to, I guess, have a couple records. Which I'm sure will be broken next year."
Family never forgets the big picture. For the Colts, Sunday was less about Luck and more about Chuck.
The big news in Indianapolis circles is that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is slated to return to work Monday, just in time to help the team prepare for a Week 17 visit from Houston, and the postseason after that.
"It's a special thing," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said.
Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia three months ago — acute promyelocytic leukemia, to be exact, a rare cancer of the bone marrow. It's now believed to be in remission, with doctors clearing the coach to return to the NFL grind. Still, Colts players didn't want Pagano to have to deal with any added pressure once he re-emerged onto the scene.
"We really wanted for his return, to know that we were going to have the postseason (locked up)," Luck explained. "We didn't want to slide in the back door in some way. We didn't want to put extra stress on a man who's coming back to work, where, ‘You've got to win this next game.'"
Pagano hasn't coached a game since a loss at Jacksonville on September 23. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took the reins in an interim role, steering the ship to a 9-3 record.
"Unbelievable," Luck said of Arians. "I don't know if I can do it justice with words."
Meanwhile, Pagano has become a totemic symbol for the new-look, post-Peyton Colts and their surprise ascension, the rallying cry of a franchise and its community. In the center of the cramped visitors' locker room at Arrowhead Stadium, as Arians and his players danced with joy, a poster with the coach's mug was hung up for all to see, adorned with the words ‘CHUCKSTRONG.'
"It's funny — there (are) probably 10 guys that have never met Chuck on the team," Luck said. "But I think they'll be emotional, too. Because I'm sure they feel like they know him, because his presence is felt so much in the building, out here, wherever we go."
Weirdest season ever. And the good folks in Circle City can't wait to see where the heck it takes them next.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com
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