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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Colts running back Trent Richardson, center, has been sat down in favor of former first-round draft pick Donald Brown as the Colts enter the final month of the regular season at 8-4.

Colts set for playoff push

– So let’s review, as December arrives and the Colts head for Cincinnati:

The sexy midseason hire is parked in the garage, while the garage’s perennial occupant, newly appreciated, is rolling in style.

The quarterback is still winning games, pinata references and all.

The defense has awakened … and the division is under lock and key … and if the Bengals cooperate today, the Colts remain a team to beat in the AFC, instead of a team some suspect is just waiting to get beat.

Conclusion: They may be just a notch better than a .500 football team since Halloween, these Colts. But 8-4 is still 8-4, no matter what it looks like.

“We’re never going to apologize for winning, no matter how you get it done,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said last week after the Colts trudged past AFC South rival Tennessee 22-14. “Ugly, whatever you want to call it, a win is a win.

“It was a game we had to get it done. The guys found a way to get it done.”

So they did. This time, they got it done off five Adam Vinatieri field goals, a defense that forced four turnovers and a dagger 11-play, 92-yard drive, as Andrew Luck again revved up the fourth-quarter mojo. His numbers may be down this year, and he may be getting killed behind the Seven Blocks of Dryer Lint that comprise his offensive line (key 2013 stat: 29 sacks), but he and his team are simpatico.

Luck finds a way; the Colts find a way. The narrative for each is the same.

And, sure, in the last four weeks they’ve been embarrassed by St. Louis and by Arizona, but both times they’ve come off the ropes: A win over the woeful Texans by three, a win over the slightly less woeful Titans by three, and a win over the Titans again.

And now?

Now Cincinnati. Now the playoff push (“That’s the time of year,” outside linebacker Robert Mathis acknowledged). And now … forget all of that.

“We just want to stay the course,” says Donald Brown, the oft-overlooked veteran who replaced midseason acquisition Trent Richardson at running back last week.

“We still have work to do and still have to stick to the task,” Mathis concurs.

And Pagano?

“We had a hiccup here and a hiccup there, but that’s going to happen, it’s the National Football League,” he says. “Our guys understand where we’re at. They understand what we have to do to get into the playoffs. Certainly, we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. … We’ll keep working.”

And so forget the 29 sacks Luck has taken this year; remember instead all those comebacks. Forget the blowout losses to the Rams and Cardinals; remember that the Colts are 4-0 in their division, and that they’ve got the 8-4 Bengals and 9-3 Chiefs still ahead, and that wins over both could still hand them the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Remember this, too: There is precedence for all of it.

“I’ve been part of defenses that hit the switch on a playoff run, a magical playoff run,” Mathis said. “The ’06 Super Bowl team, that same team gave up over 350 yards rushing to one team and then 200 yards the next week. So I definitely know the peaks and valleys and things of that nature.

“You just got to stick to it.”

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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