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Oct 10, 2014 4:47 PM

Colts seize control of AFC South as Irsay returns

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Things are starting to look familiar in Indianapolis.

Andrew Luck is throwing touchdowns, the defense continues to improve, team owner Jim Irsay is back inside the team complex and back on Twitter and the Colts are atop the AFC South.

It's a perfect start to a long weekend.

"We've got 10 days off until we play again. We're going to have a chance to get some guys back," coach Chuck Pagano said Friday. "It's an opportunity to take another look at ourselves from a self-scout standpoint, kind of assess where we're at and how we can get better in all three phases."

A month ago, an uncharacteristically chaotic start put the Colts' plans in peril.

Robert Mathis, the 2013 NFL sacks champion, was suspended for the first four games because he violated the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy and will miss the rest of the season after tearing his left Achilles tendon during a private workout while he was away from the team. Irsay was suspended six games and banned from social media by Commissioner Roger Goodell after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated. Indy then started the season by losing back-to-back games for the first time in Pagano's three-year tenure.

Since then, Indy has reverted more to the norm.

Luck followed the longest losing streak of his pro career by matching a career best with four straight wins. He not only leads the league with 17 TD passes, but he also has completed a career-high 66.2 percent of his throws and is on pace to become the first Colts' quarterback to top 5,000 yards. Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton are ranked among the NFL's receiving leaders, and Indy (4-2) has topped the 30-point mark three times in its last four games.

The latest victory, 33-28 over the Texans, also allowed the Colts to seize control of the division. They now lead Houston (3-3) by one game and are 3-0 against division foes, with two of those wins coming on the road.

"I think we have a lot of backbone on this team and that's been Coach Pagano's ethos since I've been with the Colts," Luck said Thursday night after the win.

After the break, the Colts could get even better. They've relied on a mishmash of interior offensive linemen to survive the last three weeks. Now they're hoping the extra rest will allow starting guards Jack Mewhort (ankle) and Hugh Thornton (back) to return Oct. 19 against Cincinnati.

Inside the team complex, the return of Irsay was welcomed, too.

"We haven't had a chance to talk face-to-face yet, a couple of texts here and there," Pagano said. "Obviously, it's great to know that he (Irsay) is going to be back full-time with us in the building and all that stuff. I know he's extremely excited about where we're at, the big win obviously yesterday and all that stuff."

Irsay had never missed a game as team owner and was eager to get back in the mix Friday. While he wasn't available for interviews Friday afternoon, he did break his silence on Twitter with one of his trademark contests.

"Oh hell, let's just give away some stuff to the best sports fans in the world,Colts Fans!" Irsay wrote in announcing the contest. "Good Luck and I mean Luck because 4 in a row and 1st place is sweet!"

Colts fans, meanwhile, couldn't ask for much more.

The offense is clicking on all cylinders, the defense and kick coverage continue to get better, and Indianapolis has reclaimed its spot as the AFC South leader.

"We're No. 1 right now in the AFC South and that was the plan coming in to this game," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "Just take advantage of this opportunity and run with it."



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL


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