Colts reset for stiff road challenge against Cardinals

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  • Khari Willis
    Khari Willis

Dec. 24—INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts' 1-0 mantra isn't just for times of adversity.

It's a constant reminder throughout the team facility the only thing that matters is the next game. And it's a critical philosophy as the Colts prepare to follow up their biggest win of the season with a trip to meet the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas night.

Back in prime time for the second consecutive week and the fifth time this year, can Indianapolis avoid being too satisfied with last week's 27-17 victory against the New England Patriots and reset for the Cardinals?

"I don't think it's a challenge because we realize in this league as great as the wins are — our head coach said it (Saturday) night when he's talking to us — as great as the wins are, they only count as one," safety Khari Willis said. "We realize that (was a) big game, big win, but it counts as one, and now we start again."

Willis referenced the "nunc coepi" slogan exposed by former Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers. The Latin phrase translates to "now I begin," and Rivers literally lives his life by it.

No matter the outcome of the most recent event — good or bad — it's time to start fresh and refocus on the next challenge. It's the only way to constantly improve, and that is the primary objective for the Colts under head coach Frank Reich.

"It's easy to turn the page when you realize that every game is important," Willis said. "And you can look back at it at the end of the season — or at the end of your career — and you look at the games you won. But as of right now, you gotta keep chopping wood and carrying water."

That mentality hasn't wavered throughout a season that has repeatedly tested Indianapolis' resolve. After a devastating overtime loss against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 11 dropped the Colts to 1-4, a postseason berth seemed like little more than a pipe dream.

The win against New England pushed Indianapolis (8-6) into the fifth seed in the AFC last week, and it's still alive for the AFC South championship despite dropping an overtime decision against the Tennessee Titans to complete a season sweep on Halloween.

If the Colts are to achieve their lofty playoff goals, they'll need to display the same hunger and resilience that has allowed them to rally throughout the season.

It starts with a showdown against an Arizona team experiencing recent troubles.

The Cardinals were the No. 1 seed in the NFC as they prepared for a prime-time showdown against the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 13. Then they lost two games in six days — 30-23 that night and 30-12 on Dec. 19 against the 2-11-1 Detroit Lions.

Arizona (10-4) now finds itself in a tie with the Rams atop the NFC West as the season enters its final three weeks. The losses of star defensive end J.J. Watt in Week 8 and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last week have taken a toll.

But the Cardinals went 2-1 earlier this season without star quarterback Kyler Murray and are sure to be a determined opponent Saturday night.

Arizona still ranks in the top 10 in both scoring defense (fifth) and scoring offense (eighth), and Murray remains a significant dual threat under center. He's completed 69.8% of his passes for 3,039 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing 70 times for 270 yards and five scores.

That will present a challenge for a red-hot Indianapolis defense that went seven quarters without allowing a point before the final period against the Patriots.

"A lot of their big-time plays come out of third down, third and fourth down," Colts linebacker Darius Leonard said. "So we gotta make sure that we're locked and loaded, we're ready there and be prepared for their no-huddle offense and just keep (Murray) in the pocket and hopefully get him on the ground a lot."

The Cardinals have been installed as a one-point favorite in a game that is likely to go down to the wire.

Indianapolis is 3-5 this season against teams with winning records, but it has won two of its last three against such opponents.

With the playoff races tightening in both conferences, this is another game that should have a postseason-like atmosphere.

The Colts understand the significance of the last three weeks and what they mean for the team's ultimate goals. But they haven't lost sight of the 1-0 mentality that allowed them to climb back to this point.

"We'd be lying to say we're not aware of what's going on," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "At the same time, we don't get consumed with it. We don't get consumed with it. We realize there's a lot of teams that are neck and neck vying for some spots in our conference. For us, it's just prepare one game at a time.

"One game at a time, one opponent at a time, one practice at a time because like I said, there's a lot of teams vying for those spots and a lot of that stuff is outside of our control. Like I said, we're aware of it, but we don't get consumed with it."

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