INDIANAPOLIS – When the big guy talks, the best thing to do is listen.
Indianapolis Colts defensive end Cory Redding is the big guy in question. He's 6-foot-4, 315 pounds. He's also huge in terms of influence. He's a captain, an extrovert and a long-time friend of recovering coach Chuck Pagano. When Redding celebrates a false start, the stadium shakes. He's that big.
So, when Redding expresses halftime displeasure in a passionate locker room speech during the Colts' 27-23 win over Tennessee on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, teammates listen.
And when Redding says afterward that this improbable season has an otherworldly aspect to it, you hear him out.
“It's a unique year, man, it's a unique year,” Redding said. “I've been saying all along God's got his hand on this team for a reason. He's doing things, putting stuff in people's lives and challenging them and seeing how they respond.”
This is tricky territory, this idea that God has a stake in sports teams' seasons, a debate better left to theologians than football players and sportswriters. But Redding's follow-up point captures the season without question.
“We've been hit with a lot of adversity with this team, starting with our head coach, and nobody wavered,” Redding said. “Everybody keeps the faith and keeps working and as long as we do that, we'll be very successful. I don't know what it is. I can't figure it out. But I'm enjoying the benefits.”
Maybe it's best not to try to figure it out. Colts fans should just enjoy the ride. Well, enjoy it as much as possible.
There remain times when cringing is the fallback reaction, such as when Andrew Luck tries to throw a pass while being sacked in his own territory with nothing but defensive players in front of him. That's a first-year mistake, if it's your first year in high school.
Luck's knee looked down before the football came out of his hand and Will Witherspoon took it back for a pick-six. Replays seemed to show his knee was down. The officials saw otherwise.
Luck said he probably deserved the pick six for such a bad decision. He's right.
As usual, he bounced back and made plays when necessary in the second half. The Colts trailed 20-7 and looked out of sync in the first half. So, naturally, Luck directed an 80-yard scoring drive, passed Peyton Manning's team record for yardage in a rookie season and got the Colts back in the game.
More unexplainable events followed, including Cassius Vaughn celebrating an interception return touchdown. Vaughn's good at celebrating, even when he has nothing to do with a play. This time, it was justified. He jumped the route, picked off Jake Locker's pass and put the Colts up 21-20.
It's magic. Or something.
I asked Vaughn how he knows when to jump a route like that. After all, if Vaughn miscalculates and Nate Washington catches it, who knows how far Washington runs?
“You don't (know),” Vaughn said. “You can watch all the film and all kinds of stuff (but) it's more of an instinct to go do something different.”
The Colts are doing something different, something that remains unexplainable.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals both losing, the Colts moved two games up for the first AFC wildcard spot. Nothing's guaranteed, of course, since three games remain (at Houston, at Kansas City and home vs. Houston). Lose all three and there may be no playoffs.
Indy moved to 8-1 in games decided by one score. Luck moved past Manning and closer to Carolina's Cam Newton for most passing yardage by a rookie. Newton's record is 4,051. Luck has 3,792.
“I'm glad we got the win,” Luck said. “Again, I don't think I deserve to look back doing anything. It would be dishonest to my teammates and I have to keep focus. I guess it's good to get records. Good records, not interception records.”
For the record, Luck has 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
He also has Adam Vinatieri, who booted 53- and 40-yard field goals in the fourth quarter for the points needed to pull out the win. Luck also has the chutzpah, and the blessing of interim coach Bruce Arians, to complete a clutch pass to Dwayne Allen to run out the clock at the end.
The Colts' win Sunday was also helped by Reggie Wayne (now 10th on the NFL's pass-reception list), Vick Ballard (94 hard-earned rushing yards), Darius Butler (late-game interception) and Vontae Davis (multiple plays of quality defensive back coverage).
Then there's the indefinable, the intangible Pagano effect.
Pagano has completed his final round of chemotherapy and appears to be on schedule to rejoin the team if a playoff run materializes. The Colts released a photo of Pagano talking with patients from Riley Children Hospital at the game. He looked as good as he has since taking his medical leave.
“Everything we do is about Chuck, and having him back on the sidelines going to the playoffs,” Redding said. “That's our mindset.”
That's what the big guy says. It's hard to argue.