INDIANAPOLIS – They’ve done so much to get to this point.
They’ve clawed, scratched and dug their way out of that 1-4 hole.
“Even to just get back to .500 at one point was such a big accomplishment just because we knew how close we were,’’ center Ryan Kelly said Tuesday. “To be 1-4 at one point, it just stung even worse.’’
Now, the Indianapolis Colts are one of five teams in the AFC with a 7-6 record that has them nervously clutching the No. 6 seed in a playoff picture that ultimately will include just seven teams.
Yet questions remain regarding their authenticity.
“I mean, I’m sure there is (doubt),’’ Kelly conceded. “We’ve shown that we can really turn it on at certain times and other certain times just not play up to our standards.
“The consistency in this league is No. 1 among all things and certainly I think we’re trending in that direction. It’s just taking a step in all three phases and going out there and putting the perfect game together on Saturday.’’
Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium offers the next – and best – opportunity for Kelly and the Colts to prove they belong in the discussion of the AFC’s upper-tier teams.
The No. 1 seed New England Patriots are in town, and bring with them a 9-4 record and league-best seven-game winning streak.
“This is a game we can go out there and prove finally that we’re a legit team in this league and show the talent that pulled together in all three phases and just how good we can be,’’ Kelly said.
Coach Frank Reich steadfastly preaches a 1-0 approach, and that served him well as the Colts overcame their horrible start. But he also admitted a matchup with the Patriots carries more significance than if they were another opponent on the path to the playoffs.
“I’m excited for the game,’’ he said. “Love the challenge. Love the fact that we’re going up against this team. We know it’s a tough test. On one hand, it is just the next game. But you also know it is the New England Patriots, the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
“It’s an opportunity to prove that we’re for real, to prove that we belong here, where we’re at.’’
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Colts have a 67% chance of reaching the playoffs. Those odds balloon to 87% with a win over the Patriots, and drop to 48% with a loss.
“We know the challenge that’s ahead of us,’’ Kelly said. “We have a great scheme, a great game plan.
“We just have to go out there and execute it.’’
COVID-19 on the rise
Kelly was activated off the COVID-19 list and practiced on a limited basis Tuesday. He’s expected to return to the lineup after missing the week 13 win at Houston.
“Feel good,’’ he said. “I had mild symptoms for a couple of days, but other than that felt back to myself after a couple of days.’’
But Kelly’s return coincided with Zaire Franklin being added to the COVID-19 list. It’s important to note the veteran linebacker tested positive near the end of the bye week and before returning to the team complex. That eliminated the possibility of Franklin infecting teammates.
Kelly and Franklin are the first Colts to land on the COVID-19 list since late August, but COVID-19 clearly is on the rise across the NFL.
According to various reports, 66 players have been placed on the COVID-19 list in the past two days, 65 with positive tests.
The Los Angeles Rams placed nine players on the list Tuesday, less than 24 hours after their 30-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Cleveland Browns placed six players on the list and held their Tuesday meetings remotely.
From Sept. 5-Nov. 27, there were 110 positive tests, according to NFL data.
“We are aware that cases seem to be up,’’ Reich said. “We talked about it today as a team for a second. We have been on this thing from day 1, so I really don’t feel like we’re doing anything different than continuing to remind guys to follow the protocols, do what you can, stay focused.
“It’s a virus. You can’t control it. You just do the right thing and keep doing what we’re doing.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.