Colts focus on new mission with playoff berth in hand

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Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball while defended by Malcolm Butler #21 of the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at Nissan Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It was Mission: Accomplished Sunday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

But after having a few hours to reflect and admire their handiwork – a 33-17 win over the Tennessee Titans – the Indianapolis Colts came to grips with the reality of their situation.

The win-and-in showdown with the Titans was not an End Game. Not even close.

It was the latest, and most significant step in a process that has been steadfastly followed the last two-plus months.

After emerging from a raucous locker room, Frank Reich made it clear there’s still so much more work to be done.

Enjoy what you’ve accomplished, he urged his players.

“We did something that only two teams have done,’’ Reich told them.

The Colts joined the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs and 1970 Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams in NFL history to overcome a 1-5 start and reach the playoffs.

“But we’re not done yet,’’ he quickly added.

The next step comes Saturday in a first-round playoff matchup with the AFC South champion Texans in Houston.

Eliminating the Titans and earning the No. 6 seed, Reich insisted Monday afternoon, “was the silver lining, if you will, of a 1-5 start. We’ve been in this, for the lack of a better word, playoff mode for a while. Our backs (were) against the wall.’’

Now it’s time to re-focus. Again, a ninth win in 10 games allowed the Colts to still be playing in January when players from 20 other teams are figuring out how to deal with their offseason.

Complacency or being satisfied with returning the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 isn’t an option. Neither is it a worry to Reich.

“I’m trusting the process that has been established, the leadership of the players and the focus and the vision of what we’re trying to do,’’ he said. “And that focus and vision is of getting better every day and then beating the next opponent, and that’s all that really matters.

“That’s the mindset that we’ve been in and that’s the mindset we need to maintain.’’

Listen to Andrew Luck, who passed for 285 yards and three TDs: “I’m not satisfied. We certainly have business to take care of.’’

Listen to Darius Leonard, who set the team’s single-season tackle record with an NFL-best 163: “It feels great just knowing that everything I did in the offseason and everything I have been working for is actually being put on display. But it’s not finished yet. I want that goal of putting a ring on my finger. That’s the ultimate goal and hopefully we can get that.’’

Listen to Adam Vinatieri, who’s in the playoffs for the 15th time in his 23-year career and embraced that opportunity as he walked off the field Sunday night: “I was thinking about, ‘Man, this is great. We’ve got to keep going.’ Half the league is cleaning out their locker (today) and we’re not one of them. That’s good stuff.’’

History of No. 6 seed

No one should be dismissive of the Colts entering the postseason as a No. 6 seed. Since 2002 when the current alignment was installed, No. 6 seeds are 15-17 in the opening round.

Two No. 6 seeds have gone on to win the Super Bowl: Green Bay after the 2010 season and Pittsburgh in 2005. The Steelers’ unlikely journey included a 21-18 stunner over the Colts in Indy in the Divisional round. Overall, five No. 6 seeds have advanced to a conference championship game.

On a less positive note, the Colts are a No. 6 seed for the third time since 1990. And they’ll be looking for a first victory. They were routed at Pittsburgh 42-14 in 1996 and edged by Miami 23-17 in overtime in 2000.

The Colts and Texans are meeting for the third time in three months, and that’s a rarity for the Colts. It’s just the third time the franchise has faced a division rival in the postseason, and the Colts are 0-2 in the two previous playoff situations. They split the season series with Miami in 2000 and 1971, but lost the rubber game in the postseason.

Quick turnaround

The NFL did the Colts no favors by slotting them into the opening first-round game Saturday at 4:35 p.m. They shared the Sunday prime-time stage with the Titans with an 8:20 kickoff and returned to Indy at approximately 3 o’clock Monday morning.

With the quick turnaround, coaches have less time to formulate their game plans. More important, players have one less day to recuperate. The latter is crucial to wideout T.Y. Hilton, who’s dealing with an injury to his right ankle.

“Every day of rest helps,’’ Reich said, “so not having that is probably a small factor.

“But it is a factor.’’

Reich was unable to offer an update on rookie defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, who was forced from the game in the second quarter with an injury to his right knee.

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