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December 31, 2013

Players took the lead in reclaiming Colts' season

ANDERSON — Robert Mathis can’t quite pinpoint the moment the Indianapolis Colts’ season turned around, but he knows the impetus.

A players-only meeting was held sometime in November — or maybe it was early December — and all the team’s grievances were aired. After a strong start, blowout losses against St. Louis and Arizona left Indianapolis looking like a shell of its former self.

Mathis and some of his veteran teammates — guys like Antoine Bethea and Cory Redding — had seen enough. They called the players together and hashed everything out.

It was no time to spare feelings. No topic was off the table. Any player who felt the need to speak spoke.

And head coach Chuck Pagano was happy with the results.

“(Mathis) let me know (the meeting had occurred), and then he let me know they’d be letting me stick around for the end of the season,” Pagano joked Monday, one day after the Colts closed out a second straight 11-5 season with a 30-10 thumping of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It’s easy to poke fun about now, with Indianapolis preparing to host Kansas City (11-5) in an AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday. But it was no laughing matter a month or so ago.

The defense had become a sieve, and the offense was stuck in neutral. The Colts somehow found a way to pull out wins against divisional opponents every other week, but in between were some brutal losses.

By scores like 38-8 at home against the Rams and 40-11 on the road against the Cardinals. It all came to a head on Dec. 8 in Cincinnati, when Indianapolis fell behind the playoff-bound Bengals 21-0 early in the third quarter.

Second-year quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly jolted the offense to life with four touchdown passes in the final two quarters, and the Colts pulled within a touchdown at 21-14 before ultimately falling 42-28.

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