INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts" season looked lost in early October.
At 1-5, they were better positioned for the draft than the playoffs. A defense that showed so much promise in the first three weeks gave up 37 or more points over the next three. Andrew Luck"s short, quick throws created debate over whether his surgically repaired right shoulder was - or ever would be - back to full strength.
Three straight wins have changed a lot.
Suddenly, the Colts trail division leader Houston by just two games, have slowly moved back into the wild-card chase, face only one more team with more than five wins at home against Houston (6-3) on Dec. 9. With momentum and hope restored in Indy, there"s no telling how this might end.
""That"s not a good question to ask a perfectionist,"" coach Frank Reich said Monday when asked if the offense could play more efficiently.
""It"s never good enough. But it"s been pretty good. It"s funny how we"re wired in this business. This business can humble you in a second and the moment we think we can throw it out there and score 30 points in a minute is the time we get embarrassed.""
Reich"s comments explain why he refused to panic when many things - including his decision to go for the win in an overtime loss to Houston - seemed to backfire.
It"s also the reason he views Sunday"s 29-26 victory over Jacksonville with mixed feelings.
He was thrilled to see Luck finding open receivers throughout the first half as Indy scored on four its first six possessions and excited to look at a stat sheet that showed the Colts" defense limited the Jaguars" usually strong ground game to just 91 yards and 2.7 yards per carry.
Still, he understands Indy (4-5) must continue improving to continue winning.
The offense only produced two first downs in the second half, preventing the Colts from sealing the victory until finally forcing a fumble after Jacksonville had moved into position for a potentially tying field goal with 90 seconds left in the game. They only got the ball back after a booth review barely beat Jacksonville"s next snap and the replay review overturned the call on the field.
""It"s sort of like a mixed bag of emotions,"" Luck said after joining Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the only players with six consecutive games of three or more touchdowns in one season. ""A win, excited, but also a little bit angry on the mistakes I know that I felt like I made and that our offense made.""
There are plenty of encouraging signs.
Luck has thrown 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in the past six games with a reduced workload on his shoulder. He"s increasingly exploited the mismatches between Indy"s versatile tight ends, hooking up with them on five TD passes over the past two weeks.
Perhaps most important: Indy"s rebuilt offensive line has kept Luck upright. He"s been sacked 10 times in nine starts after going down 156 times in his first 70 games, and Luck"s streak of four straight games and 184 consecutive sacks are the longest of his pro career.
They"ve played well enough that Reich is expanding the play calls.
""It gives us a lot of confidence to call anything we want, to call stuff down the field,"" he said. ""There"s not a play that gets called that we don"t think protection first.""
Defensively, things look better, too.
The Colts generally have created a pass rush though they failed to even hit Blake Bortles on his 38 attempts Sunday, and they"ve proved stouter against the run than in previous seasons.
If they keep it up, Reich knows anything is possible. Another home win next Sunday against Tennessee would give the Colts a four-game winning streak, a share of second place in the AFC South and perhaps even better odds in the playoff race.
""It"s not easy, obviously, to win three in a row, especially coming off of a bye,"" Reich said. ""But we really want to make a statement in these games we have at home. We want to get the excitement back in the building.""
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