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Colts at ease living on brink

– Chuck Pagano, take the witness stand. Please explain the baffling and clarify the inexplicable. The Indianapolis Colts keep pulling games out of the fire like they’re roasting marshmallows. They keep yanking back victories that are three-quarters way to the loss column.

Take Sunday. Ho-hum. Another fourth-quarter rally, defying both the used-to-be 4-0 Seattle Seahawks, and logic. Andrew Luck has played 21 NFL games, and Sunday’s 34-28 victory was the ninth time he has put together a winning fourth-quarter drive. You know that old saying, making chicken salad out of chicken something else? Luck and the Colts have produced more chicken salad than a deli.

Illuminate, please. This is not a whodunit. This is a how-do-they-keep-doing-it?

“Character. Resiliency. Toughness. Grit. Never quit. Belief. Faith,” Pagano said. This from a man who fought back leukemia, so he understands what all those words mean.

“I don’t know what else I can say, other than … we’ve got something special.”

Yeah, we’ve noticed. This isn’t a trick anymore. This isn’t magic, or witchcraft, or a temporary hot streak that will end once the football gods get bored and choose somebody else to bless.

And it isn’t just an ex-Stanford quarterback with a flair for the dramatic, though he certainly helps. “His last name fits the bill,” Robert Mathis was saying of Luck. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”

No, this is a locker room that is all in, when it comes to the formidable philosophy that the scoreboard is only there for replays and Kiss-cam, until time runs out and the survivor stands tall. Lots of teams say they understand that. The Colts have built the glowing and slightly mysterious record to prove they do.

Look again at Sunday.

You start the game on offense like you’re in a coma, don’t you usually lose? It took the Colts four possessions to get a first down. Seattle had a 10-0 lead before Luck completed his first pass.

The other team has not one, but two guys who rush for more than 100 yards, don’t you usually lose? When Russell Wilson was scrambling, the Colts often looked like they were trying to chase down a flying bat. At halftime, Seattle had outrushed Indianapolis 144-29.

You trail the Seahawks 28-23 going into the fourth quarter, don’t you usually lose? They had owned the fourth quarter like Marriott owns hotels, outscoring opponents 44-7.

But then the Colts went into their Great Escape mode. We can get reasons from the usual suspects. There’s Pagano.

“Nobody’s built, I don’t think, better to win in these close games, especially down the stretch, especially in the fourth quarter, than this team,” he said. “This is the most resilient team I’ve ever been around, and they’ve got more grit than any team that I’ve ever been around.

“Nobody flinches around here.”

And Luck. “I don’t think it’s in the DNA of a Pagano-coached team to hang your head,” he said. “Guys keep fighting. It’s been that way since I’ve been here. I think it’s really set by … the veteran guys. They just play football. I bet Robert (Mathis) doesn’t even look at the scoreboard during the game. He’s just going as hard as he can every play.”

But for fresh perspective, there’s newcomer Trent Richardson, who didn’t have a big day but plowed forward for the 10 yards on third down that the Colts had to have in the fourth quarter, explaining later “That’s what they brought me here to do.”

His views on how this happens?

“We depend on each other. You can look to your right, you can look to your left, nobody is going to have his head down. It’s not a team, it’s a family. It’s a unit. That’s something guys in the Navy and the military build.”

So it’s anchors aweigh for the Colts, now lone leaders in the AFC South, after a win Sunday that could serve as a centerpiece for their steel. “It epitomizes everything we’re trying to do,” Pagano said.

“I don’t know any other way, our guys don’t know any other way to do it.”

The Colts are 4-1. Their way is working pretty well.

Mike Lopresti is a freelance writer. His columns appear periodically.