Chuck Pagano has been a source of inspiration for the Indianapolis Colts throughout their improbable season.
Now he'll finally get to do it from the sidelines.
After waging a successful three-month fight with leukemia, Pagano has resumed his coaching duties. He'll be back on the field for the first time since Week 3 on Sunday when the Colts close the regular season against the visiting Houston Texans, who will be playing for the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
"I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it's just a blessing to be back here," Pagano said.
He'll be taking over after interim coach Bruce Arians led Indianapolis, a league-worst 2-14 last season, to victories in eight of its past 10 games.
"He's always been our head coach," Arians said of Pagano.
While the Colts (10-5) can't move out of the No. 5 seed in the AFC regardless of what happens this week, Pagano will try to help the team regain some momentum heading into the playoffs after a pair of poor performances. A week after never leading in a 29-17 loss at Houston, Indianapolis needed yet another late touchdown drive engineered by Andrew Luck to beat lowly Kansas City 20-13 last Sunday.
The Texans (12-3) also haven't been at their best lately, sandwiching the win over the Colts with losses to New England and Minnesota by a combined 45 points. However, they still have a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win Sunday, or if both Denver and the Patriots lose.
"We know what it takes," said defensive end J.J. Watt, two sacks shy of Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22 1/2. "We're going to get focused, and then we're going to come out there and earn ourselves home-field advantage."
The health of Arian Foster could be a key. He had season lows of 10 carries and 15 yards in a 23-6 loss to the Vikings last Sunday before leaving in the third quarter with an irregular heartbeat.
However, Foster practiced all week, and coach Gary Kubiak said the AFC's second-leading rusher (1,328 yards) will play Sunday.
"I appreciate all the concern and support," Foster tweeted earlier this week. "I am doing well. Saw a cardiologist today and everything is back to normal."
Foster rushed for 165 yards on 27 carries versus the Colts earlier this month. He's run for more than 100 yards in each of his four career games against them, averaging 164.0 yards with five touchdowns.
Houston's dynamic running game has to be a concern for the Colts after allowing the Chiefs to rush for 352 yards - their most since 1966 - on 8.0 yards per carry.
Indianapolis also has to deal with Andre Johnson, who had 11 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting and leads the AFC in receiving yards (1,457).
The Texans, however, likely need to fix their problems on third downs after going 1 of 11 against the Vikings and 14 of 55 (25.5 percent) in December.
"There's many, many issues going on," Kubiak said. "But there is one consistent issue and the consistent issue is third-and-long."
Indianapolis has been tough in that category, ranking 10th in defensive third-down percentage (33.3) in December after holding the Chiefs to 2 of 10.
Luck broke Cam Newton's single-season mark for passing yards (4,051) by a first-year quarterback last Sunday, but he also completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the fourth straight contest. He was 13 of 27 for 186 yards and two touchdowns while getting sacked a season-high five times in his first look at the Texans, who lead the NFL in defensive completion percentage (53.2) and rank fifth with 43 sacks.
"As an offense, if we can control the ball and not give it over, we're going to have a chance to win," Luck said.
Reggie Wayne, who scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Chiefs, had his worst game of the season against Houston with three catches for 14 yards. His 102 receptions are nine shy of his career high from 2010.
The Colts haven't had more than 300 yards in total offense in three straight weeks after eclipsing that mark in 10 of their first 12 games.
Houston has never won in 10 all-time trips to Indianapolis. The Colts have won five straight home games - none by more than seven points.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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