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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck says even though the team is 6-2 there is plenty to improve on in the second half of the season.

Colts have winning culture

So maybe you take a dip in the history pool for this one, if you’re of a certain nerd-ish bent.

The Indianapolis Colts?

Why, they’ve come from behind more often this fall than Ulysses S. Grant. Or George Washington and the Continental Army. Or, I don’t know, Harry Truman, maybe.

Analogies pale, with the Colts coming to halftime of the season at 6-2. They’ve lost Reggie Wayne, Ahmad Bradshaw and a pile of other guys, and yet every time you look up they’re coming off the ropes. And dropping their tormentor with art and thunder and grace.

For that you can thank the ever-maturing Andrew Luck, already one of the top five quarterbacks in the game, and his young receivers, and a running game that actually works. You can thank a defense led by Robert Mathis, who’s having the season of his life in the autumn of his career. And you can thank a healthy locker room culture (attention, Miami) that coach Chuck Pagano initiated but which the players have perpetuated.

“When we came in here as a staff,” Pagano said last week, “we decided OK, this is the environment we want, this is the culture we’re going to try to create, this is the process we’re going to stick to week-in and week-out – how we’re going to practice, how we’re going to meet, how we’re going to do things. And I credit the players from Day One for buying into that and never wavering, regardless of the circumstances.”

And so, yes, they’re resilient. And, yes, the injuries haven’t fazed them, because part of the locker room culture is a next-man-up mentality that won’t allow that to happen. And, yes, they’re 6-2 with wins over Seattle and San Francisco and Denver behind them, and all those fourth-quarter comebacks behind them, and not much ahead except road games against undefeated Kansas City and AFC North leader Cincinnati.

So they’ve got to be feeling the hard part is finished, right? Especially when, if you take the Chiefs and Bengals out of the equation, the opponents they have left are all .500 or worse and have a combined record of 13-28?

Small comfort, as it turns out.

“Mission’s not complete,” Mathis says when asked to assess the Colts’ season so far.

“There are still a ton of things we’ve got to work on, and (we’ve) definitely got to execute better at the beginning of games,” linebacker Pat Angerer agrees.

And Andrew Luck?

“Nowhere near perfect, by any means,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to improve.”

That they likely will improve with that sort of attitude seems obvious, just as it seems obvious the one glaring area where they need to improve is the way they begin games. Too often, they come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt, only it’s an 85-year-old Usain Bolt. And they get behind. And they have to draw, again, from a reservoir of resilience that, luckily for them, has so far been virtually inexhaustible.

“We have a young team that’s bought in,” Mathis says. “The truth of the matter: We don’t know any better. We just know keep fighting, keep swinging and hopefully you’ll connect and get that knockout punch.”

So far, they’ve connected, mostly. And there’s no reason to believe, here at the midpoint of the season, that it won’t continue given everything Pagano has created.

“It’s fun from my perspective,” Luck says. “Coach Pagano has created a great culture here. It’s been fun, and I think we’re on the right track.”

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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