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Epic comeback leaves Colts recovering physically, mentally

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hello, Tom Brady.

Thanks to the San Diego Chargers' 27-10 AFC wild-card playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts will be traveling to Foxboro, Mass. to face Brady's New England Patriots at 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday night.

While it will be the fourth postseason meeting between New England and the Colts, it will be the first head-to-head playoff matchup between Hall of Fame-bound Brady and Indianapolis second-year quarterback Andrew Luck.

The two franchises faced off in a regular-season game at Gillette Stadium last season with the Patriots coming away with a 59-24 win. Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns in that game. Luck, meanwhile, connected on 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Indianapolis players and coaches had to wait until the conclusion of the Chargers-Bengals game before knowing their next playoff opponent. The Colts advanced to the divisional round of the postseason with a wild 45-44 come-from-behind victory over Kansas City at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night.

Had Cincinnati won on Sunday, Indianapolis would have been visiting Mile High Stadium in Denver and a rematch with the AFC West champion Broncos. The Colts won this year's meeting with Denver, pulling off a 39-33 win at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano didn't care which Pro Bowl quarterback -- Brady or Peyton Manning -- his team faced this week.

"Either way it's a huge undertaking and a huge challenge as we know," said Pagano. "Two of the best that ever played the game. We've faced both. We know both. Again, it'll be a huge challenge."

Pagano noted the Colts have a lot of work to do in order to clean up mistakes from the Kansas City win.

"Obviously things are heightened as you move on in the tournament and playing the teams that you're going to play," he said. "I think when you look at it, it's like any game. Everything that's on that tape is correctable. Certainly we can do a lot of things better and we'll go back to work when they come back in here once we find out who we're playing and what day we play on. We'll come back in here like always and go back to work and try to get better."

Indianapolis came out of the Chiefs game with a couple of injuries, most notably cornerback Greg Toler's groin as well as wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) and safety LaRon Landry (concussion). Toler was placed on injured reserve, while the status of Heyward-Bey and Landry likely won't be known until late in the week.

Facing New England on a short week may be the biggest issue. Indianapolis came out of its win over Kansas City with some very tired players and coaches. The Colts rallied from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to post the second-largest playoff comeback victory in National Football League history.

"I think everybody is whipped, mentally and physically," Pagano said. "By the grace of God, you get out of there with a victory, you're able to go home and sit on the couch, turn the TV on and find out that it did happen. It is real. It wasn't surreal."

"Those guys, our players, they lay it on the line week-in and week-out. They truly left nothing, nothing, out there. Again, it just speaks to the type of kids we have and the character. Special, special group man. Just a special group of men. Players and coaches. We'll find a way to muster up just enough to try to move on."

The memorable win over the Chiefs was highlighted by tweaks made by the Indianapolis coaching staff over the course of the second half. While Indianapolis didn't completely slow down Kansas City's offense, the Colts were able to slow it down enough to enable Luck to engineer the comeback.

"I've never been a part of anything like it," Pagano said. "These guys are able to put things behind them. Never too high, never too low. Stay with the process. From day one, they've bought into that theory, that philosophy. That's why they're able to do the things that they've done to this point over a two-year span.

"To be able to come back. Call it amnesia, focus, whatever you want to call it. Pretty resilient bunch that plays one play at a time and doesn't look at the scoreboard and doesn't judge. They'll just go as hard as they can. They understand the mistakes that were made and they put it behind them and they move on."

--Former New England WR Deion Branch was signed to the Colts' active roster five days before the teams meet in the Divisional Playoffs. Branch had two stints with the Patriots (2002-05 and 2010-12). He also played five seasons with Seattle (2006-10). He was a teammate of Colts PK Adam Vinatieri at New England and backup QB Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle. He has caught 518 passes for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in 140 regular-season games. He has started 111 games. Branch currently lives in suburban Indianapolis and had initially worked out for the Colts last month.


--CB Greg Toler (groin) has been placed on injured reserve. Toler has been bothered by a strained groin since the Oct. 20 game with Denver. He missed several weeks of practice and games but was brought back four weeks ago against Kansas City. He saw limited work against the Chiefs and Jaguars. Toler started against Kansas City but was limited. He was taken out of the game after giving up a 71-yard touchdown pass to WR Donnie Avery.

Toler will likely be replaced by Josh Gordy.

--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) is not expected to be available to play against New England this week. Heyward-Bey was hurt in the latter stages against Kansas City. He did not return.

--S LaRon Landry (concussion) is continuing to undergo protocols. He was hurt against the Chiefs. His availability for the New England game won't be determined until later this week.

--OG Joe Reitz (concussion) practiced last week but did not play against Kansas City. Reitz was initially hurt late in the season. His status for the New England game will be updated later this week.

--DT Fili Moala (knee) has been placed on injured reserve. Moala was hurt against Jacksonville in the final regular season game. He experienced swelling in his knee last week and did not play against Kansas City. Team doctors recommended shutting him down for the season.

--OLB Daniel Adongo (hamstring) is expected to practice this week and be available for the New England game. Adongo was hurt late in the season and has seen limited work in practice. He was a pregame inactive against Kansas City.

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