Win over Packers gives Colts ‘opportunity to keep moving forward’

Andrew Luck #12, Donte Moncrief #10, and T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrate after scoring a touchdown as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix #21 of the Green Bay Packers walks off the field in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Andrew Luck #12, Donte Moncrief #10, and T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrate after scoring a touchdown as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix #21 of the Green Bay Packers walks off the field in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – His team is back in the hunt, once again drawing hearty breaths after its most complete outing in an otherwise wildly-erratic season.

A clear blue sky and unseasonably warm temperatures served as Monday afternoon’s backdrop, but things were actually more pleasant indoors.

“Great team win. Great complementary football,’’ Chuck Pagano said less than 24 hours after his Indianapolis Colts gave meaning to the final two months of their season with a 31-26 win over the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field. “A lot of good football was played.

“Obviously it comes at a much-needed time. Love where we’re sitting right now. It gives us an opportunity to keep moving forward. We said this game would be a defining moment for our team and for our season, but really how we handle it is also going to define this football team and where we go from here.’’

Rays of optimism from someone who clearly understood the magnitude of the Colts stunning the Packers in hallowed Lambeau for the first time since 1988.

The alternative was returning home with a 3-6 record and playoff aspirations on life support. Since the current playoff format was put in place in 1990, only four teams that started 3-6 had recovered and reached the postseason, including one in the last 19 seasons.

The difference between 4-5 and 3-6 is so much more than one win.

Pagano was asked if he could imagine the mood if the Colts were the latter.

“Don’t even want to think about it,’’ he replied. “(Would) make you sick to your stomach. What, (use a) top hat and cane? I don’t know how I’d spin it, 3-6. Fred Astaire? I couldn’t pull it off.

“I would have had to dug deep, and I told ‘em that today. I told ‘em and that’s being brutally honest. It is what it is. We always talk brutal honesty in there.

“That God we didn’t have to go down that road.’’

Immediately, the Colts are going into their bye week. While that might stem some of the momentum created by the unexpected win against the Packers, it offers players an opportunity to mend and re-energize.

Rookie offensive lineman Joe Haeg has appeared in eight of nine regular-season games, six as a starter, and two preseason games. That’s roughly a full college season, and it’s taken a mental and physical toll.

Haeg is looking forward to “just kind of be able to take a step away, kind of recoup and get ready for the last part of the season.’’

“A bunch of players were talking about ‘Wish we were still going. Want to be out on the field. Want to be playing this week,’’’ Pagano said. “At the same time, half of the room (doesn’t) feel so good, saying, ‘No, we need the time.’’’

Maybe the extended time off will benefit left guard Jack Mewhort (tricep), right tackle Joe Reitz (concussion), safety Mike Adams (groin) and defensive linemen Kendall Langford (knee) and Henry Anderson (knee).

When practice resumes next Monday for the Nov 20 game against the Tennessee Titans in Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts again will attempt to end what Pagano described as “one hell of a roller-coaster ride to this point.’’

No one can debate the comprehensive nature of the win at Green Bay. Also, no one can argue the Colts were coming off their worst outing of the season, a 30-14 home loss to Kansas City.

“You get made out to be something you’re not after you win and you get made out to be something you’re not after you lose,’’ Pagano said. “Somewhere in the middle is where reality lies.’’

The reality: at 4-5, the Colts are tied with the Titans for second place in the AFC South behind 5-3 Houston. Three of the next four are at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“How we handle this and how we handle ourselves moving forward will determine where things go,’’ Pagano said. “There has been test after test after test.

“For us to not build on this, for us to not do the right thing… and do the things necessary over the next four or five days that need to be done and not take advantage of this, then shame on us.

“A great win like that at that place, it’ll be all for naught if we don’t handle our business the right way.’’

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