By Christina Rivers
The Indianapolis Colts were able to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, setting themselves up in the Divisional Round of the 2014 NFL playoffs. For the third time in two seasons, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning will square off, this weekend at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. While that pairing will garner plenty of chatter, there is plenty to talk about out of the Colts organization that shows that Indianapolis is ready to go for their first road win in the playoffs since 2006.
The media got a rare opportunity with Colts owner Jim Irsay on Tuesday. Irsay was at the team’s facility and expressed his pleasure with how the team has performed. “To be in the playoffs three straight years, win 33 games over three years…this is really exciting,” said Irsay. “Our goal is to win the game.”
Irsay admitted that he feels his team is closer to being Super Bowl bound this season and that they have yet to play their best game. He also spoke a lot about comparisons between Luck and Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, a man Irsay knows intimately. “Peyton is still playing at such a high level,” Irsay said. “I thought that he would. It was, again, great that he was able to go to a team and get surrounded with great players like they’ve surrounded him with.”
Manning and the Broncos offense finished second in the league in scoring in the 2014 regular season. Since being released from Indianapolis in 2012, Manning has been effective and led Denver to a Super Bowl appearance against the Seattle Seahawks last season. Irsay called it his vision that Manning would be able to find a home and be successful after Luck was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck has put together three straight 11-win seasons and led the league in touchdown passes (40) and sat at third place in passing yards with 4,761 this season.
“We’ve been blessed with a lot of success and that’s something we really appreciate,” Irsay said of the Colts reaching the 11-win mark in each of the last three seasons. “At the same time, we are looking forward to taking that next step. We are really excited about the opportunity.”
Place kicker Adam Vinatieri, at the age of 42, is most likely just as excited about the playoffs but found himself given a drug test notice in his locker on Monday, just hours after drilling a 53-yard field goal in the Colts’ win over the Bengals. Vinatieri has kicked four field goals 50 yards or more this season, arguably his best season in the league. Colts punter Pat McAfee got a similar notice last season after he had a hard hit on a kick returner. McAfee posted a photo of Vinatieri’s notice on Twitter, adding, “When u’re closer to 60 than 20 & bang a 53 yarder ¾ of the way up the upright. This type of thing is expected #GOAT.”
Whether the test was targeted due to his performance or not, it may have sent a message that the Colts locker room doesn’t need ahead of a key game. There has been no comment from the front office, but the testing policy is clear that it is random. It’s doubtful that the test will keep Vinatieri from using his strong leg to keep putting the ball through the uprights against the Broncos, especially in the thin air in Denver.
Interestingly, the Colts will return to the place where they began their 2014 campaign. Their return will be an effort to completely erase the 31-10 season-opening loss. “We weren’t satisfied with our performance,” Dwayne Allen said of week one. “We knew that if we did what we had to do, meaning make it to the playoffs, that we knew we would have the opportunity to come back [to Denver].”
Both teams have made some transitions in their lineups and playbooks over the course of the season, but Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo insisted that preparation for a Denver team that has moved to more commitment in the running game and several players getting healthy at the right time began immediately after the win against Cincinnati. “As soon as it got to 0:00, I was like, ‘Alright, DeMarcus Ware preparation starts right now’,” said Castonzo. “You can’t have any time to relax. It’s playoffs. Everybody is giving their best…that preparation mentally starts right now.” Castonzo doesn’t think either team is surprised to see each other again. “They kind of expected to see us again and we expected to see them again.”
For more Colts news and updates, visit Colts Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.