It begs the question, what changed?
"It's the same schemes that we've run all year," Bethea said. "We're just executing, we're getting turnovers, we're getting sacks, we're getting off (the field) on third down. All the things we've been saying that we wanted to do all year."
Mathis, who tossed two more sacks on his large pile Sunday, concurred. He mentioned how the Colts had grown fundamentally sounder as the season closed. How this late surge was "much needed. We're a young team, so we had to generate that steam.
"We've got a lot of guys back from injuries. Also it's a mindset. We have the pieces to do it. We've just got to do it."
It is tempting to trot out 2006 as an inspiring parable. A rapidly stiffening defense at the end of that season was a harbinger for the Super Bowl championship to come. Mathis, an '06 holdover, said he can see some similarities.
Funny thing, though. Those Colts gave up 65 points the last three games of that regular season. The dominance did not come until the playoffs. Maybe these Colts started early.
It is a team whose drive and purpose have never been questioned, especially now. A team that fully appreciates what it has done, only two years removed from plunging to the bottom of the NFL, when — as Pagano said — "They had left us for dead."
So an 11-5 record means something. "I'll never take wins for granted," Mathis said. "Not after 2-14."
But now is when hopes are fulfilled, or crushed.
"We're building confidence, and guys have a lot of trust in each other, knowing that guys are going to make plays," said Adam Vinatieri, who has seen playoff teams like dentists have seen molars. "That's kind of what you want to do when you are going into the playoffs. You want to be climbing."
Oh, it's a tough-minded bunch, all right. But as tough as past Colts teams who defined their legacies in the playoffs?
"It's up there," Mathis said. "When February rolls around, I'll be able to tell you much clearer."
Clarity. That's what January is for.