|Andrew Luck continues to play above even the high expectations placed on him. (US Presswire)|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes in sports, it's downright impossible to truly describe what is going on in front of us. It is special. Magical, almost, and the words are hard to find, the results defying the logic.
That's the 2012 Indianapolis Colts.
How is this team with a rookie quarterback (a damn good one, mind you), a roster of young kids that was turned over by the new general manager that's been playing without its sick coach for the past six weeks, now at 6-3 and a legitimate playoff contender?
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Heart? Desire? Drive?
It's all of that -- but something else, too: belief.
As nutty as it sounds, the Colts players say they believed this team could be successful when they showed up for camp. After seeing them blow out the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-10 Thursday night at EverBank Stadium in what should have been a classic letdown game, it's hard to argue with that belief now.
"Why strap it up if you don't feel that you can be that team?" Colts defensive end Cory Redding said. "The Colts had a bad season last year. This year's Colts, we changed that mindset. We have to show them who we are, which is a good team."
For the first time all season, the Colts eased to victory. They led 17-0 early, and were never threatened by a bad Jaguars team that's only victory came against these Colts earlier this season.
Indianapolis played with six new starters against the Jaguars because of injuries, including playing without both corners, but it was one of those backups who made the play off the game.
Leading 17-3 early in the third quarter, Darius Butler stepped in front of a Blaine Gabbert out and picked it off for an easy pick-six to make it 24-3. He made it look so easy that many in the crowd had no idea he even picked it off.
"That's what's so beautiful about sports," Redding said. "We have a team where everybody is just backing each other up. That's the beautiful thing about us."
The not-so-beautiful thing visually is seeing a locker room full of shaved heads. But the reason behind it is as beautiful an act as you will see in an NFL locker room. With coach Chuck Pagano fighting leukemia, and chemotherapy taking his hair, many of the Colts players have shaved their head in solidarity. Included in that group is Redding and quarterback Andrew Luck, the rookie passer who is making this all possible.
"It's great that it's getting attention and raising awareness for what Chuck is going through," Luck said.
Chuck is fighting for his life. Pagano spoke to his team after last week's victory over the Dolphins, the first time he met with them since being diagnosed after the third week of the season.
It was emotional for sure, a tearjerker type of moment. Now Pagano is readying for a second dose of chemotherapy that begins next week.
"He's smiling right now and I know he's going to sleep tight tonight and battle his tail off this week," interim coach Bruce Arians said. "And hopefully we'll have him back soon."
Pagano's team -- and it is still his even if he isn't there in body -- came into Thursday's game with just three takeaways on the season. They left with three more. The Butler pick was the biggest.
This wasn't Luck's best game, but it was plenty good enough. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 227 yards, no touchdowns and one interception but ran for two scores. The pick led to the scariest moment of the night for the Colts when Luck actually tried to make the tackle on Dawan Landry after throwing an interception.
"If I am going to be the one who turns the ball over, I'm going to at least try and stop the guy," Luck said.
In the future, the Colts would be wise to tell him to get away. But that type of play is part of why his teammates love him already.
"The boy is tough," Redding said. "The kid has a heart of stone. He will do what it takes to win, whether it's making a tackle on an INT or getting the tough yards."
The Colts came into this game ranked 23rd in scoring offense, 23rd in scoring defense and with a minus-10 in the takeaway/giveaway department. That is not a formula for a winning record. Yet here they are at 6-3 with a huge game looming at New England a week from Sunday.
Doubters still linger now, but if they win that game they will start to make believers out of them.
I asked veteran safety Antoine Bethea if there was something special going on in that locker room.
"Yeah, it is," Bethea said. "We feel we have a good chance to be really good."
Who could have imagined it? Not me. I picked them to go 1-15, remember?
Bethea and Redding both say they saw the talent in the summer. That's easy to say now, right?
"Once we got to training camp, you could see we had a lot of talent and we just needed to buy into the systems," Bethea said.
"We always believed we could be good," Redding said.
What's even more important, they still do.
"It feels good," Redding said. "But we're not finished."
Who are we to doubt them?