By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Andrew Luck’s appearance was a little more aerodynamic Wednesday as he boarded a team charter bound for Jacksonville.
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback, who was named the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week and sent his game jersey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after Sunday’s rookie-record 433-yard explosion against the Miami Dolphins, was one of some 30 players to shave his head in support of ailing head coach Chuck Pagano.
The Colts’ first-year leader began his second round of chemotherapy this week in his ongoing fight against leukemia. The show of solidarity by the players is just the most recent example of the strong bond he’s forged with the team.
“We all know what he means to us all,” interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “On a personal level, I think each guy is different. He’s reached out to some guys who may not have been playing as good to try and spark them up and go over the last two or three weeks.”
It’s been an incredible recent run for Indiananpolis (5-3). The Colts have won four of five games since Pagano’s diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia became public Oct. 1, and they’ve won their last three games overall.
Tonight’s trip to AFC South rival Jacksonville (1-7) is an opportunity to clear up one of the season’s few regrets.
The Jaguars’ lone win came at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 23, a 22-17 victory sealed by an 80-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds remaining in regulation.
“That definitely stung,” outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said, adding he’d be lying if he didn’t say the loss was the most painful of the season. “Losing that way, those games you chalk up as a ‘W’ at that point. They have to drive 80 yards with however many seconds that they had left. Just make a tackle, and that game’s over. It didn’t happen. So we obviously remember that.”
So does Jacksonville, even if it must seem like a lifetime ago.
The Jaguars have lost five in a row since, including a 31-14 decision against the Detroit Lions on Sunday in which the offense ran just 12 plays before the two-minute warning in the first half.
Needless to say, the subject of September success hasn’t come up often in the Jacksonville locker room this week.
“I’ve always equated this game to white water rafting,” Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said. “If you can get out of the same river 10 different times, it’s 10 different rides. It’s the NFL. That’s why, every one of these games, I’ve felt very confident in the preparation that we had a chance to win when we stepped out on the field. It just hasn’t come to light. We are waiting to put a complete game together. It’s not about the past. It’s about the now.”
The Colts also should have little trouble focusing on the present.
Three starters — cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis and tight end Coby Fleener — did not make the trip to Florida. Seven others appeared on the team’s final injury report Wednesday.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis, running back Donald Brown, center Samson Satele, right tackle Winston Justice and wide receiver Donnie Avery are listed as questionable. Freeney and inside linebacker Pat Angerer are probable.
And Arians cautioned that nothing should be taken for granted. After the Colts upset the Green Bay Packers during the week Pagano was admitted to the hospital, they followed with a 35-9 loss at the New York Jets.
“We have to learn from the last time we had an emotional win,” Arians said. “We got our brains beat out. I’ll remind them of that. The short weeks are always tough on both teams, especially the one that’s traveling. ... It’s not a physical week. It’s all a mental week.”
In that regard, Indianapolis might turn to its precocious rookie leader.
Even while the hype swirling around him reaches new heights, Luck remains the calm at the center of the storm. He said early in the week his play has been “average” through the first half of the season, and he’s blocked out all the national attention the team’s impending appearance on the NFL Network has brought.
He similarly shuns any talk about exacting a measure of revenge against the Jaguars.
“I’m not too big in that business,” Luck said. “It’s another game and a chance for us to get a win. I know they’d love to get a win as well. So it should be a hard-fought, tough-nosed, good football game.”