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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Colts running back Vick Ballard’s dive into the end zone in overtime last week against Tennessee put Indianapolis at 4-3 and in the playoff race.

Colts try to stay focused

Vick Ballard is no Jim Mora, yammering away out there in our institutional memory. He will never be a meme unto himself, never be a running gag on YouTube, never be the ringtone that leaves you in stitches every time it goes off.

Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs …

Remember that? Heck, it’s hardwired now, isn’t it?

Well, come on out to the west side of Indianapolis, then, where the Colts sit at 4-3 midway through the season, and Playoffs?! suddenly is an echo of an echo. It’s an echo that has been turned inside-out and upside-down and played backward like the Beatles’ white album, only instead of revealing that Paul Is Dead, it reveals that the Colts are very much alive.

And the voice you hear saying that, or one of them, is Vick Ballard, who stood on his head last week to get the Colts their first road win.

“Is it weird to think you guys are in the playoff hunt?” someone asked Ballard last week.

“I wouldn’t say weird,” Ballard replied. “It’s just the fruits of our hard labor.”

Nope. No Playoffs?! there.

What there is instead is a football team that, halfway home, is nothing like the crash site so many envisioned. Instead it’s visibly growing every week, to the extent that it’s now in a place not even the truest of True Blue zealots imagined it would be.

Coming to Week 9 against Miami, the Colts are tied with the Dolphins, Steelers and Broncos for the fourth-best record in the AFC, and who saw that coming? Who saw it coming especially after their new head coach, Chuck Pagano, got sick and had to go off to fight a larger battle against leukemia?

You can credit general manager Ryan Grigson for putting together just the right balance of youth and age, and you can surely credit Pagano for building a team culture sustainable even in his absence. But you can also credit the players and the X-and-O guys and whatever it is that makes Ballard hurl himself recklessly at the pylon when the circumstances call for it.

Next up: Learning how to live with success.

“That’s the whole focus this week,” Arians said. “Don’t read about yourself, don’t pat yourself on the back, respect the process of a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday and a Saturday on how to prepare. As long as you respect the process, you don’t get caught in those peaks and valleys of ‘I’m good, I’m bad, I’m good, I’m bad.’ ”

“It doesn’t matter what your record is now. It matters what it is after that last week,” quarterback Andrew Luck added. “We are not looking ahead to anything.”

Or behind.

“(Arians) talks about not having a rearview mirror,” Ballard said. “Whenever you have a rearview mirror, you get to looking back at what you did and not what you have to do.”

They all get that, or as much as young teams can until it gets taught to them on the field. Some of them, like tight end Dwayne Allen, already have had it taught to them.

“I’ve been fortunate enough last year at Clemson to be a part of a young team (that) had a lot of success early and didn’t handle it well,” he said. “We got to a point where we were 8-0, top five in the country and we weren’t ready for that type of pressure.”

And now?

Hey. Stick around.

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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