Of all the memorable drives during the Indianapolis Colts’ remarkable 2012 season, the final march of the last home game likely will be the best indicator of the future.
A smile still brushes head coach Chuck Pagano’s face when he speaks about it during news conferences, even though it ended with Andrew Luck kneeling three consecutive times behind the line of scrimmage instead of making a highlight-reel touchdown pass.
The Colts took possession against the Houston Texans with 9 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and never let the visitors touch the ball again.
Luck completed just one pass — for 6 yards to Reggie Wayne on third-and-2 from Houston’s 20 — and 11 of the previous 12 plays were runs. Indianapolis marched from its own 20-yard line to the Texans’ 14, then Luck knelt to preserve a 28-16 victory that cost Houston homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.
It’s not the play calling that portends the future. So don’t worry about new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton overwhelming the game plan with a power-running game.
And it’s not even the 66 yards the Colts moved the football with little contribution from Luck and Wayne — who had been the heart and soul of the offense all year.
No, it was the mindset and character of the team.
Indianapolis simply imposed its will on Houston, showing the smashmouth mentality Pagano promised to instill on the mid-January day on which he was announced as the replacement for former head coach Jim Caldwell.
Nearly every move the team has made since its 24-9 loss in Baltimore in the AFC Wild Card round one week later has been designed to reinforce that take-no-prisoners approach.
Four new offensive lineman have been added — tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas in free agency, guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes in the draft. Three defensive linemen have been imported — free agents Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean Francois and fifth-round draft pick Montori Hughes. And the team also has beefed up with run-stuffing safety LaRon Landry and outside linebacker Erik Walden.
Even the first pick of the draft — Florida State’s Bjoern Werner at No. 24 overall — is a pass-rushing menace brought in to help the Colts control the line of scrimmage.
“Our team got way better (through free agency and the draft), and we know what the expectations are coming down the pipe,” Pagano said at Saturday’s postdraft news conference. “It’s exactly where we want to be. The expectations are where we want them.”
Those expectations involve the images of the Lombardi Trophy strategically placed all around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Pagano’s vision for the Colts came to fruition for the final 9:46 last year at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But that was just a start.
He and general manager Ryan Grigson won’t rest until Luck is kneeling to run out the clock on the first Sunday in February.