INDIANAPOLIS — As his team walked off the field last January in Baltimore, Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano asked the Colts to remember what they were feeling.
And to strive never to feel that way again.
After a roller coaster regular-season ride, the Colts (11-5) find themselves back in the AFC playoffs today. And the season-ending 24-9 loss against the Ravens last year remains fresh in their minds.
Asked what he remembers most about his first trip to the playoffs, quarterback Andrew Luck mentioned the finality of it all. Lose today against the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) in a Wild Card game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and there's no chance to come back next week and set things right.
"It seems like mistakes are so much bigger (in the playoffs)," Luck said. "I think you really have to take care of the football, convert third downs, get first downs. If you're in the red zone, you have to score points."
Those, of course, are the same keys every week. But in the postseason, everything is magnified.
Especially turnovers. And especially against the Chiefs.
Kansas City started 9-0 this season behind three main strengths — all-purpose running back Jamaal Charles, an explosive kick and punt return game and a defense that thrives on taking the ball away from opponents.
All three make life easier for efficient — if unspectacular — quarterback Alex Smith.
During a 23-7 victory in Kansas City two weeks ago, the Colts won the battle on two of the three major fronts. Charles had his fair share of success, scoring on a 31-yard run to cap the opening drive and gaining 144 total yards on 18 touches.
But the Chiefs did not set up any scores with big plays on special teams, and Indianapolis did not turn the ball over. Instead, Kansas City uncharacteristically coughed the ball up four times, and head coach Andy Reid said that's one of the areas for improvement the team focused on this week.