By Tom James CNHI News Service
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — Live in the moment. That’s the game plan for the Indianapolis Colts heading into this afternoon’s road game with the Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m., CBS Sports).
With an 8-4 overall record and an AFC South mark of 4-0, the Colts can clinch the division title with a win at Paul Brown Stadium. Indianapolis can also annex the crown if Tennessee were to lose later this afternoon at Denver.
Any combination of a Colts win and Titans loss (or if each team were to tie their opponents) would lead to Indianapolis’ eighth AFC South championship since the division was formed in 2002.
“It’s our first goal that we have on the goal board, the goal sheet when we start the season. We all gather up at Anderson at training camp. To be able to accomplish that first goal and know that you’re in [the playoffs] certainly would be a tribute to our coaches and players, sacrifice and hard work that they put in,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said late last week.
The issue, though, is first things first. While winning the division is a major goal to accomplish, coming home tonight with a win over a very good Bengals team would certainly make for a nice bus ride back to Indianapolis.
In fact, winning its final four games of the regular season would set the Colts up well heading into the post-season.
“Certainly, [the AFC South championship] doesn’t let you let off the gas. Again, I talked before about somebody is going to get hot in the next month. December football is as you know very important. Again, these guys have done a great job of putting themselves in position, being relevant, being in the conversation. We’re not there yet,” Pagano voiced.
“We need a victory. We’re not counting on anybody else at this point. We control our own destiny. But once you get in, if we’re fortunate enough to have that happen, we don’t let off the gas. We don’t exhale. We just try to keep getting better week in and week out. Take it one week at a time and try to keep gathering steam.”
It’s a mantra that the Colts coaching staff preached all week long.
“We’re just going to focus on the next game. [And] that’s the Bengals. Again, our guys understand where we’re at. They understand the record. They understand the division. They understand what we have to do to get into the playoffs. Certainly, we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. The worst thing that we could do, like we’ve done before, is get complacent, take a big exhale, sigh of relief, if you will,” Pagano said.
“We’re going to keep our edge. We got to stay focused and hopefully we got some things to work on obviously and we’ll address that. We’ll keep working. We’ve got to get better. The guys are focused on that. It’s the next game. It’s the Bengals. We’re playing a damn good football team, offense, defense, special teams. [Head coach] Marvin [Lewis] has done a great job. That’s a good football team.”
Winning today won’t be easy. The Bengals are also 8-4 and currently lead the AFC North. Cincinnati is the only team in the division with a winning record.
“Really good football team. Well-coached. Got playmakers on both sides of the ball. Special teams are solid. From an offensive standpoint, they got a great 1-2 punch at running back. The law firm [BenJarvus Green-Ellis] is a hard-nosed between the tackles guy and grinds out a lot of tough yards and makes a lot of first downs for them. Gio [Bernard] comes in. Second leading receiver. He’s dangerous. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s elusive. Great out of the backfield again in the pass game. And wide receiver, one of the best in the league in A.J. Green,” the Colts coach said.
“The quarterback [Andy Dalton]is playing well. Tight end [Jermaine Greshman and Fort Wayne native Tyler Eifert]. They got a bunch of weapons. Defensively, they’re ranked sixth in the National Football League for good reason. They got good players. Got a good front seven, good linebacking core, good in the back end. [Defensive coordinator] Mike Zimmer does a great job with them. They play fast, physical. They’re big, they’re long, they’re athletic. Really, really good football team. Well-coached. Marvin [Lewis] has done a great job there for a number of years. He’s put himself together a really good squad.”
When it comes to the idea of keeping an eye on the scoreboard, keeping track of the other potential playoff teams, Pagano would prefer his team keep theirattention on the game at hand.
“I think when you start doing that, you lose focus on what the task at hand is, and that’s taking care of us, taking care of the things that we need to take care of,” he stressed.
“We can control only what we can control. We’re not going to let somebody else hope that things rely on another team winning or losing to get us in. We can control that. So we’re going to stay focused on the process. We’re going to stay steady and stick to the formula that has worked to this point.”