No one has to remind Bruce Arians that the Indianapolis Colts are a young team.
Nor does he need a refresher on the conventional wisdom regarding young teams — that they are supposed to struggle, not flourish.
But at 8-4, the Colts have turned conventional wisdom upside down, a fact the interim head coach is also well aware of.
Just don’t tell Arians the Colts have overachieved. He’ll disagree in the strongest terms.
“Youth was out the window six weeks ago for us. I don’t think we’re playing over our heads at all,” Arians said, lamenting that the Colts’ record isn’t better than it is.
This despite what was billed as a rebuilding year by no less than owner Jim Irsay.
Yet here the Colts are, winners of seven of their past nine games, solidly positioned for a wild-card playoff berth. They can strengthen their footing with a win Sunday against the visiting AFC South rival Tennessee Titans.
The Colts beat Tennessee in a 19-13 thriller Oct. 28 for their first road win of the season. They are 5-1 at home and easily could have been 6-0 in Lucas Oil Stadium were it not for an improbable defensive breakdown in the final minute against Jacksonville on Sept. 23.
Hence Arians’ assertion that the Colts haven’t overachieved. If anything, they’ve not always maximized their strengths.
“There are times we’ve played below our ability,” Arians said. “And then other times we play more mature than people give us credit to be because we have so many young players, rookies. But mature, they are. Solid players.”
Of the youth cadre, none has been more solid — or played beyond his years — than rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
Having already orchestrated multiple late game-winning drives, including last week’s 35-33 win at Detroit with no time on the clock, Luck attributes the Colts’ success to strict adherence to weekly preparation.
In short, they don’t deviate from a routine that emphasizes the task at hand — whether it’s watching film, stretching or practicing.
“As a team, we’ve respected the process every week, win or lose,” Luck said. “I think we’ve always come to practice hard (and) understand that you can’t be looking forward to the next day before this practice. I do think we understand where we are, the situation that we’re in.
“Understand, though, to give ourselves a better chance to win, we’ve got to focus on Wednesday when it’s Wednesday, Thursday when it’s Thursday. It is cliché, but I do think it holds true.”
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne shares Arians’ opinion that the Colts are not overachievers.
In his view, they’re playoff contenders who have yet to show what they can really do.
“We haven’t even played a full three quarters of Colts football, let alone a whole game,” said Wayne, one of the NFL’s leading receivers with 88 catches for 1,156 yards and three touchdowns. “I think we’ve played in halves pretty well, but as far as a whole game, we have not done that yet.
“This will be a great opportunity to do that this week.”
Arians said he agrees.
“When you’re a good football team, you know how to prepare and respect the process of preparation,” he said. “Then you should never be surprised with anything on Sunday. As (former Alabama) coach Bear Bryant would say, ‘Expect the unexpected.’
“And that’s all in preparation.”