Colts will be without 3 starters against JaguarsIndianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson (34) runs against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown (25) during the third quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Chuck Pagano spent months trying to convince others that his old-school football philosophy would still work.
Those who didn't believe it then sure do now.
Thanks to a powerful ground game, a productive passing game and a persistent defense, the short-handed Colts surprised everyone by easily overpowering defending NFC champion San Francisco - on the 49ers' home turf.
''It builds confidence throughout the locker room, throughout the organization and obviously on both sides of the ball and special teams,'' Pagano said. ''Like you said, they (the players) have bought in from Day 1, but it just lends credence to what you're doing philosophically. When you lay out a blueprint, it doesn't matter what venue, if we're home or away, it shows that if you stick to the process, it comes to fruition and you go win a game like we just won, you can build on that.''
Inside the Colts' locker room, few doubted that the transformation from finesse, pass-first team to a physically-imposing balanced offense would work.
Andrew Luck and the rest of Indy's contingent from Stanford saw the same formula turn a stumbling college program into a national contender. The defensive players who had been part of Pagano's system in Baltimore, such as Cory Redding, or similar defenses around the league already knew it was a proven commodity.
But fans were understandably nervous.
After watching Peyton Manning & Co. make high-scoring shootouts and mind-numbing stats the norm, then seeing Luck do essentially the same thing in last year's pass-happy offense, many wondered whether the Colts were doing the right thing by relying on a more balanced attack. A dismal Week 2 loss to Miami brought out critics from all corners.
They've all vanished after seeing the kind of stat sheet that would make any coach happy.
-Indy never trailed in producing its most lopsided road win since Oct. 25, 2009.
-The Colts rushed for 179 yards and topped the 100-yard mark for the third straight week, the first time that's happened in Indy since September 1989.
-Newly acquired Trent Richardson scored a touchdown on his first carry with the Colts, while Luck and starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw each scored on TD runs, too.
-The defense limited San Francisco to 254 yards, 91 on its only scoring drive and 67 on its final series, and forced two turnovers.
-Indy still has not lost back-to-back games since Pagano took over as coach last season, improving to 6-0 after losses.
-And they did all that without six starters.
Pagano couldn't have drawn it up any better.
''It was as complete a game as I think we've played since we've been here,'' he said. ''Every game is going to be different, so sometimes, you're going to throw more than you run. But any time you can win the time of possession battle like that, and you win the turnover battle, win the third-down battle ...''
Usually, you win.
The only question left is whether the Colts (2-1) can continue winning this way.
On Sunday, they shuffled the lineup after losing their best blocking tight end, Dwayne Allen, left guard Donald Thomas and starting center Samson Satele to injuries. So Pagano moved right guard Mike McGlynn to center, started rookie Hugh Thornton at left guard and Jeff Linkenbach at right guard, and used Joe Reitz and tight end Dominique Jones as extra blockers in heavy run formations.
Bradshaw had his best game since joining the Colts, running 19 times for 95 yards and Richardson gave the Colts a strong two-man wrecking crew on inside runs that eventually wore down San Francisco (1-2), one of the NFC's Super Bowl favorites.
''I think when you're able to run the ball like that, it does frustrate a defense,'' left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. ''I know it helps me out, especially on the edges. It frustrates defensive ends that they can't just rush the passer all day. It kind of keeps us as the attacker. The fact that we're able to be multi-dimensional, I imagine that was frustrating for the defense.''
And the Colts hope to get similar results with this game plan for the rest of the season, beginning next weekend against winless Jacksonville.
''I think that was a definite step in the right direction,'' Castonzo said. ''A lot of that has to do with the fact that we just have backs that are fun to block for. Out there on the field yesterday, Ahmad (Bradshaw) was extremely emotional and was just having a great time running and that kind of feeds through to everyone else.''
NOTES: Pagano said linebacker Pat Angerer (knee), safety LaRon Landry (ankle) and Satele (elbow), who all sat out Sunday are day to day this week. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who left the game with a groin injury, also is day to day.
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