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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Colts linebacker Robert Mathis describes the “process” as paying attention to the little things.

Colts respect the ‘process’

There is no magic to any of this, as it turns out. No dark alchemy spills from Chuck Pagano’s office. And the office itself is just an office, not some mystic passage between this reality and some other.

You want to know why the Colts are 4-1 and suddenly looking like a player in the AFC, as San Diego and the big stage of Monday Night Football beckons?

All together now, boys and girls: It’s about … process.

“Process” is Pagano’s favorite word, and he wears it out the way a third-grader wears out a pencil eraser. Process means you just play, period. It means you play when you’re up 20 and you play when you’re down 20, with no discernible difference. It means you play to the whistle, and then you get up and play to the whistle again.

“One play at a time. All you got,” Pagano said the other day.

“Don’t buy into everything. Stay even-keeled, stay where we’re at, and let’s just play ball,” defensive end Cory Redding concurred.

And what about you, Robert Mathis, with your league-leading 9 1/2 sacks for a defense that, in case you haven’t noticed, owns the fourth quarter these days?

“Just got to keep it going,” Mathis said. “And that’s just paying attention to the little things and doing your job.”

And, sure, OK, there’s more to it than just that. It helps, for instance, when one of the guys paying attention to the little things is named Andrew Luck. It helps when he has an aging star (Reggie Wayne) and a budding star (T.Y. Hilton) to throw to. And it helps when you can run the football and stop the run, and when your team is plus-6 in turnover ratio because your offense leads the league in fewest turnovers.

Those are the tangibles, the specifics behind 4-1. But it all flows from that one word – process – and all the decidedly un-magical, un-sexy culture it perpetuates.

“It’s pretty simple, because we just keep pounding it home day after day, week after week, month after month,” Pagano said. “They get sick and tired of it, I think, because it’s everywhere and it’s every day, but now it’s just ingrained in their minds. It’s something that we will never get away from and move away from.”

And what is “it,” exactly?

“Don’t judge,” Pagano said. “We talked about don’t judge, it means don’t look at the scoreboard. Doesn’t matter if you’re up, if you’re down. Play as hard as you can.

“That’s what these guys are doing. They don’t deviate.”

As he says: Pretty simple stuff. And yet so basic and so grounded that there’s an air of permanence to it, a feeling that 4-1 isn’t a high-water mark but only the beginning of something better.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface,” Pagano said.

Not that he or anyone else will speculate any further about that. Process, remember?

“We realize it’s a long season,” Luck said. “San Diego is the next one up. You don’t want to take away from the fact it’s Monday night, but you prepare the same. We know it’s a good San Diego team. We know it’s going to be a 60-minute football game. The ball will be snapped.”

Whoa. Stop the presses.

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; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.