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Ben Smith

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Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo says the team wants to win its final two games of the season.

Colts value strong finish

– They were maybe gonna pipe in a little Bob Marley for practice, Colts coach Chuck Pagano revealed this week. Just to cover their bases, you know.

So apparently this all still matters.

Apparently it matters today that the Colts (9-5) go into frigid old Arrowhead Stadium, the loudest joint on the Great Plains, and ice the Chiefs, even though they have the AFC South title locked up. It matters because a win over the 11-3 Chiefs would get them off this win-loss-win-loss slog they’ve been on since October. It matters because a win over the Chiefs gives them a leg up on a team they could see again in the playoffs.

Once upon a time, the Colts sewed up the division title and took the week off, thereby blowing a shot at a perfect season. This time, because the season has been anything but perfect, that isn’t going to happen.

Games 15 and 16 will mean just as much as games 1, 2 or 8. Which is exactly why no one’s going to tell you that out at the Colts’ complex, even as you try to get your head around their novel idea of using some cranked-up Bob Marley to get them ready for the Arrowhead din.

“I think you just … do what you have to do to win a football game,” Pagano said. “We’re going to do what we have to do. Try to go win a football game and not really worry about what lies ahead or down the road.”

Ditto, says offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo.

“Our goal is to just win out,” he said. “Regardless of what happens with anyone else, we want to win the rest of our games and kind of be catching fire here at the right time going into the playoffs. We want to be playing our best ball regardless of what happens.”

There’s merit to that; history favors the hot team in these deals, and the Colts have been anything but hot lately. Since beating the Broncos on Oct. 20, they’ve gone 4-3, beating only Houston and Tennessee, two teams with a combined record of 7-21.

So taking down the Chiefs in Arrowhead would be a huge boost just when the Colts need it. But simply winning for momentum’s sake is not the only goal here, and that goes for both teams.

In Arrowhead today, after all, a win for Indianapolis would keep it in contention for a first-round bye, which would happen if the Baltimore Ravens, 8-6 and winners of six of their seven games, win out over the Patriots and the Bengals. A win for the Chiefs, meanwhile, means they keep their division hopes alive.

If the Chiefs win out over the Colts and San Diego, and the Broncos somehow stumble against either Houston or Oakland, the Chiefs win the division and, at 13-3, claim a first-round bye.

“Big game,” says defensive back Darius Butler, momentarily letting the blinders slip. “In December, you’re stacking up wins. Everybody’s jockeying for playoff position. You have the teams that are either fighting in the hunt or trying to climb another seed or two. So we’re jockeying for playoff position.”

And so, yeah, this all still matters, for myriad reasons. The season may be down to the crumbs, but they’re valuable crumbs. And if that makes today a playoff game of sorts … well, here’s history again, telling us it’s teams that were in playoff mode before the playoffs started that have won the Super Bowl the last three years.

“Our guys love that type of environment, kind of thrive in it,” Pagano said. “They get giddied up for playing in stadiums and atmospheres like that.”

So giddy-up, then.

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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