INDIANAPOLIS — The reality is lost on this locker room, how inquiring minds with ignorant questions can be inspirational assistance to the Indianapolis Colts.
Reporters flood the players’ plush office and ask about the supposedly insurmountable task at hand, trying to stop the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) in Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game at insanely loud Arrowhead Stadium.
The decibel reference is just part of this process of reminding the Colts of their place in the postseason. They’re the underdogs. They weren’t supposed to make it this far. They’re playing with house money away from home.
Nobody comes out and says it. That would be rude and too brutally honest. But the inference couldn’t be more obvious based on what the media asked these guys on Tuesday afternoon.
What makes Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes so special? How can you stop such a talented player who will be named NFL MVP after throwing a league-best 50 TD passes for the NFL’s No. 1 offense this season?
Hey, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, what do you think of Mahomes? Let’s forget the fact that Luck studied hours of film because he has to figure out how to score on the Chiefs defense. He won’t have the honor of getting to tackle the 23-year-old sensation who plays the same position.
Colts first-year head coach Frank Reich politely addresses the same topics associated with how to compete against the NFL’s No. 1 offense. Reich, by the way, is the perfect coach for this scenario. He was always an understated underdog as a backup Buffalo Bills quarterback, when he proved no mountain is too high to climb, even a 35-3 playoff deficit against the Houston Oilers. He came off the bench to engineer the Bills’ 41-38 overtime victory in 1993 that still stands as the greatest playoff comeback in league history.
Not that many of his players are aware of such ancient history. More than a third of this young Colts roster wasn’t even born when Reich pulled off the most memorable accomplishment of his playing career. Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, the NFL’s leading tackler and a first-team All-Pro in his NFL debut, is among those youngsters.
“Without a doubt,” Leonard said of embracing the role of underdog. “I’ve been an underdog since probably the age of 13, so yeah, I love being the underdog.
“Yeah, without a doubt, once you go in as the underdog, I think you have a lot more chip on your shoulder. It makes you want to play even harder and makes you want to knock down the top dog.”
Leonard gives the same polite compliment about how Mahomes has got such tremendous arm strength and possesses the uncanny ability to extend plays as an unpredictable scrambler. And lest anyone forget, it’s going to be quite a hostile environment at Arrowhead Stadium. “The Maniac” mentions how NRG Stadium wasn’t exactly quiet last Saturday, when the sixth-seeded Colts (11-6) knocked off the fourth-seeded Texans 21-7 for their 10th win in 11 games.
This line of questioning, again, is perfectly suited for a team counted out after a 1-5 start. The worst thing is showering these guys with positive compliments and making them feel too good about themselves.
That doesn’t motivate an underdog. Keep telling them what they can’t do. Guys like Leonard and cornerback Kenny Moore II have been listening to that disrespect their entire athletic lives. They weren’t supposed to be good enough to even make it to this level.
“It’s just in my DNA,” Moore said. “I’ve been the underdog my whole entire life.
“I’m always up for a challenge, and this is a great week to be up for a challenge.”
An optimistic, diehard Colts fan might be quick to mention that their favorite team is 4-0 against the Chiefs in the playoffs and how Kansas City has as many all-time home playoff wins (two) as the Colts at Arrowhead Stadium.
As talented and potent as that Chiefs offense usually is, a Colts backer will also point out that the Chiefs defense ranked 31st in total yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. Fact is, Luck is looking at a defense that is nowhere near as strong as those he humbled down the stretch. The Tennessee Titans (No. 3), Texans (No. 4) and Dallas Cowboys (No. 6) were all among the best at fewest points allowed. The Colts swept the Titans, won two of three from the Texans and blanked the Cowboys 23-0, the same Dallas bunch that won a playoff opener to advance to the divisional round in the NFC.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan, a Hoosier native proud of his team, took to Twitter to show his support when he tweeted, “No need for @Colts fans to be shy. This is a great team. Can’t wait for Saturday. 1-0! #Colts #ColtsForged.”
Thank you, Mr. Gaffigan, but you obviously didn’t get the memo. Gushing boosts the confidence of the underdog, who can discern from such praise that they can actually beat the Chiefs.
Call it reverse psychology or whatever you want, but the smart play is to stick with the disrespect. The Chiefs opened as six-point favorites.
“Saturday, let’s play ball,” Moore said.
No doubt, there’s no way the Colts can win. If nothing else, get that message. It’s the best possible motivation for underdogs who, of course, never stand a chance.