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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts will look to build on their impressive victory in Kansas City last week when they take on division rival Jacksonville today in the regular-season finale.

Colts eye playoff impetus

– The tunnel vision is there, as ever. So they’ve got that going for them.

“I don’t think we’re caught up in anything but the Jacksonville Jaguars,” says the quarterback, Andrew Luck, putting the words to it the way a quarterback should.

“Man, right now the main focus is all about Jacksonville,” says defensive end Cory Redding, seconding the notion the way an 11-year vet should.

And so consider the Indianapolis Colts’ minds right, at least in the sense that one of head coach Chuck Pagano’s dominant memes continues to run through them like clear water. They will focus on the task at hand, and that’s all. Anything beyond – up to an including a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, stunningly enough – will remain beyond, at least for the time being.

It’s how you build momentum late in a season, one distinct brick at a time. The latest brick was 23-7 over the Chiefs in frigid Arrowhead Stadium last weekend – important because it snapped the Colts out of a troubling win-lose-win-lose rut they’d been in since late October, and also because it gave the Colts two straight solid defensive efforts and a fourth win this season over one of the league’s top six teams.

Now a win over Jacksonville today would send them to the playoffs with a three-game winning streak (and, again, if the cards fall right, a No. 2 seed and first-round bye) and all that aforementioned momentum, assuming such a thing exists.

“It would mean a lot,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman says of all that. “Like I said, you’re trying to get hot. This is the best time to get hot and roll into the playoffs. You want to win them all, regardless of how important the game is.”

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton agrees.

“It means a lot because the team that’s hot normally wins it all,” he says.

This is sometimes true, actually. Two seasons ago, the Giants won their last two regular-season games after losing four straight and wound up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as the confetti whirled and danced around them. And in 2006, the Colts themselves won two of their last three to launch their own Super Bowl run, riding a defense that suddenly discovered how to stop the run.

After giving up 375 yards on the ground to Jacksonville that season, the Colts surrendered 133, 114 and 150 in their last three regular-season games. And on they went.

Of course, then there’s the Ravens last year.

The reigning Super Bowl champs prepped for the playoffs by going 1-5 in their last six. But then they pulled off that miracle in Denver, and on they went.

So there is momentum, and there is momentum. But on balance it’s better to have something solid besides luck to build it on – in the Colts’ case, a defense that’s given up just 10 points in the last two games, and a team that doesn’t often beat itself, leading the league in fewest turnovers and penalties.

“I think that’s two good stats to have,” Luck says. “It goes back to coach Pagano’s preaching, ‘Don’t beat yourself, take care of the football, run the football, stop the run.’ ”

One more meme to grow on.

“In December, so far, we’ve played four games. We’re 3-1. We’re looking at making this 4-1,” Redding said last week, summing it up. “That’s our mindset. We’ve got to keep gaining momentum into the playoffs. We know that it’s a big statement to make, not limping in, but really standing strong.”

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.