Whatever it is Chuck Pagano is selling, the Indianapolis Colts are buying.
In bulk quantity.
What else explains a rebuilding team that should contend for the No. 1 draft pick looking like anything but? In Week 2?
Granted, Andrew Luck appears to be the the real deal. True, the Vikings are not so good.
But the no-name Colts have no business winning games like this and certainly not in this fashion.
On a day when five injured starters sit, including Dwight Freeney and Winston Justice, the Colts should not dominate nearly the entire way. They should not be turnover-free. They should not be equipped to shut down one of the NFL’s top running backs. They should not draw inspiration from a rookie quarterback making his second career start.
Instead, they should be vulnerable, mistake-prone and destined to be routed — regardless of the opposition. The Colts are, after all, a massive work in progress. Apart from a handful of aging veterans, this is an entirely new group working under an entirely new coaching staff, including a first-time head coach who himself is undergoing on-the-job training.
That would be Pagano, who — like Luck — isn’t performing like a rookie.
Dramatic change and questionable talent notwithstanding, Pagano has demonstrated clear abilities to motivate, instill discipline and build confidence in a young team that displayed all three qualities during Sunday’s home-opening win against the Vikings.
“It’s huge,” Pagano said of the victory, “because what you’re trying to sell, everything that we started from culture to offensive system, defensive system, special teams across the board, everything that you’re trying to sell your kids from a confidence standpoint, just to find a way to win that thing at the end. It would have been an obviously devastating deal on many levels for every kid in that locker room, especially the young ones.
“But to be able to come out of there with a victory is again a testament to them, and it’ll go a long way moving forward.”
The win is also a testament that the Colts found the right head coach.
Equal parts fiery, upbeat, workmanlike and no-nonsense, Pagano from the beginning projected an air of confidence and a sturdy determination to get the job done. Two games into his first season, he no longer just looks the part. He embodies it.
Jim Caldwell, unfortunately, never did. Great guy, bad coach.
Pagano, on the other hand, appears to have the dual qualities of affability and ability. He has personality and, more importantly, a knack for connecting with players. All of last week’s talk about the importance of winning at home and playing well at home wasn’t just talk, after all. The Colts went out did both.
That’s a direct tribute to Pagano, who somehow coaxed a woefully inexperienced team to perform at a level several notches above what conventional wisdom suggests it should.
The Colts didn’t trip over their shoelaces. They executed a game-plan and marched to the most unlikeliest of wins.
“We showed a lot of character; and when you win games like this, it builds a lot of confidence not just for the older guys who have played in a lot of games and know what it takes but for some of the young guys, as well,” said Adam Vinatieri, whose 53-yard field goal in the final seconds lifted the Colts to a win in a game they controlled almost the entire way.
“You have to win at home,” Vinatieri said. “Those tight games can build a lot of confidence coming off a win like that.”
And it starts with the coach, who clearly gives the Colts a little extra something besides good Luck.
“Obviously, I feel great for all our assistant coaches and all the players and all the time and trust and belief they put into this whole thing,” Pagano said. “It feels great, and what a great crowd. My hat goes off to our fans and those guys hanging in there. When we needed them the most, they were there, and they were loud, and it was an electric atmosphere.
“I get to enjoy this, like everybody else, for a couple of hours, and then back to the grind.”