Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano returned to work and put the pedal down.
In Pagano's view, now is not the time to ease off. Now is not the time to reflect. Now is the time to keep pushing harder than ever.
You want to rest? That's why they invented the offseason.
It'll be business as usual when the Colts (10-5) play the Houston Texans (12-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I think our mindset coming in has been one of we're going to play to win every single week, regardless of the situation, regardless of our record,” Pagano said. “We owe it to everybody else – our fans, the city, the state, the community – to go out and play football.”
Apparently, Andrew Luck's seasonlong streak of playing every snap will remain intact.
Some had questioned whether Pagano might choose to use a “meaningless” final home game to rest some regular players in preparation for the opening round of the playoff the first weekend in January. The Colts had done that in the past, but that was with a veteran team and a different coaching staff and front office. Situations were different, too, as the Colts often had a bye week or home-field advantage.
The Colts will play their first playoff game at either Baltimore or New England and will be the fifth seed no matter what the outcome of Sunday's games.
The Texans, however, can still clinch home-field advantage by beating the Colts.
“You want to go into the playoffs with momentum, regardless of how this team has gotten to the point where it's 10-5 and made the playoffs,” Pagano said. “We want to keep the momentum going and keep our young guys coming along. To rest guys, so to speak, to pull back, frankly I don't think we have the numbers, just doing the math and counting guys, to rest anybody.”
Pagano ran his first full practice Wednesday since returning after battling and prevailing over a form of leukemia. He'll coach his first game Sunday since the Colts lost to Jacksonville at home Sept. 23.
Pagano said it's possible even a rookie like Luck is less than 100 percent healthy, given all the hits he's taken. But that doesn't call for rest.
“I'm the only guy with a bounce in his step,” Pagano said. “I've been laying around for three months and had plenty of coffee. I'll try to set the tempo and pace for everybody. I think (Luck) is doing OK. Is he 100 percent? I don't know. I can't tell you that. But he'll be fine.”
Pagano's decision was well-received, even from veterans who might have welcomed a little reprieve to their bruised and battered bodies.
“I've been in this situation a lot and we've taken it different ways,” rush end Dwight Freeney said. “Every year is kind of unique. Whether you agree with it or not, there is something to be said about keeping your momentum going. I like the idea of still going out there and working your craft.”
The final game might be the last home game of Freeney's long Colts career. Many people expect he won't be re-signed after his contract expires for a number of reasons, including his age and his salary. He didn't rule out returning to the Colts, but says he recognizes that sometimes changes happen. After all, he saw a number of longtime teammates part ways with the Colts after last season.
“I think later in your career, the older you get, especially when your contract is what it is, you realize, 'This might be it, man,' ” Freeney said. “You take in as much as you can take in.”
Freeney said he'll enter the offseason without worrying about what lies ahead.
“All I can do is perform and play,” Freeney said. “I've been a guy who has played regardless. If I'm out and supposed to be back in four (weeks), I'm back in two. If I'm supposed to be back in six, I'm back in four. I'm going to go out and do what I'm supposed to do and give it my all.
“If management recognizes that and keeps you around regardless, that's their decision. I'm sure they'll do right by me and factor in everything. When it's time to make a decision, they will.”
NOTES: Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and outside linebacker Robert Mathis were named to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday. It is the sixth selection for Wayne and the fifth (and fifth straight) for Mathis.