BY now, it’s clear there’s nothing flukey about the Colts.
They’re for real.
So much so that if they don’t reach the playoffs, the season — on all fronts — will be a bitter letdown.
Players expect it. Coaches expect it. Fans expect it. Not to accomplish it is almost unthinkable.
Now think about that for a moment.
A season that began with rock-bottom expectations has, in almost mystifying fashion, become a thrill ride. It is, in many ways, the best story in the NFL.
Most of the stars of yesteryear are gone. Rookies play huge roles. An interim coach has led the way since late September. Injuries have been common and crippling. And a first-year quarterback directs the offense.
Yet December is here, and we’re talking about the playoffs.
Nobody’s kidding anybody. We’re talking about the playoffs.
At 7-4, the Colts not only are in the race but are near the front of the wild-card pack. They have the fifth-best record in the AFC. They control their own destiny.
As far as they’re concerned, their inclusion is a fait accompli.
“Coming down the stretch, the month of December is very important getting those wins,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Hopefully, when we make it to the playoffs, just being in those tough games, 60-minute games, overtimes, just knowing how to win, making plays and getting a ‘W’ (will pay off in the playoffs).”
For Reggie Wayne, one of the perks of the playoff push is putting it back in the faces of those who didn’t not expect the Colts to be in the conversation — i.e., the media.
He had a little fun with them Friday when asked about the most satisfying part of the season.
“Just being able to prove you guys wrong, you guys who said that we ranked 32nd at the beginning of the year,” the 12-year veteran receiver said. “Even though we kept our doors open on the bandwagon, you guys jumped on. I appreciate that.
“Normally, we close that door and pull off, but we left it. We left it open for you all.”
And now, the entire Colts nation has come along for the ride. An unexpected joyride that shows no signs of slowing.
It’s not always been smooth or pretty. At times, it’s been rocky and ugly. But it’s been fun, all the same.
Unexpected, unadulterated, unfiltered fun.
Talking about the playoffs always is. But the Colts aren’t just talking about the playoffs. They’re playing like they belong.
“It’s just going out and winning games, having fun,” Wayne said. “That’s been the most satisfying thing, just seeing the team come together, especially at hard times with coach (Chuck) Pagano, still staying focused, pulling through, staying with the task at hand.
“Being successful, that’s the biggest thing.”
Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal, a sister paper to The Republic. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.