INDIANAPOLIS — Suddenly, the Colts don't look so bad.
After months of miserable performances, weeks of speculation about a winless season and countless hours debating who will and will not return in 2012, Indy has reversed course.
Two wins in five days, both against teams vying for playoff position, has ended the talk about a historic 0-16 season and instead renewed debate over whether fans should root for Indy to win or lose next week at Jacksonville. A loss would almost certainly give Indy its biggest win of the season -- the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. A win would probably cost them that No. 1 overall selection in April's draft, though they would still be picking in the top three.
But that's not how players or coaches fighting for their jobs see it.
"I'm not certain if I've been around a group of guys, particularly when things haven't gone well for us, that will fight you like this group," coach Jim Caldwell said. "They will fight you right down to the last whistle, and I think, certainly, this team is creating its own identity here toward the end of the season."
It's about time.
For 13 weeks, nothing went right in Indianapolis (2-13).
Peyton Manning couldn't come back from neck surgery.
The defense couldn't hold leads.
The offense went more than 500 minutes without taking a lead and during one five-game stretch, and the Colts had three of the worst single-game yardage totals in franchise history.
On the rare occasion when the offense and defense actually played well enough together to win, the Colts' special teams broke down.
But just when it seemed like 0-16 was a realistic possibility, the Colts shifted gears.
They yanked quarterback Curtis Painter, replacing him with journeyman Dan Orlovsky, who has won two straight after going 0-9 in his previous NFL starts. They changed defensive coordinators in the middle of the season. They got back to basics, and now, they have won twice.
"I think he knows how we do things around here and I think he's been able to get that across," Caldwell said Friday when asked about interim defensive coordinator Mike Murphy. "The other (coaches) have done a good job. I think it's a good coaching unit."
The question is whether a strong finishing kick will change the Colts' plans for 2012.
In 1997, The last time Indy went through a skid akin to this -- starting 0-10 before finishing 3-3 -- there was a major overhaul. Jim Irsay, who assumed control of the franchise after his father's death, hired Bill Polian to run the team and Jim Mora to coach. The Colts also lost the regular-season finale to Minnesota, securing the No. 1 pick they used on Manning.
Since 1987, Indianapolis has had six losing seasons and fired the coach after three of them. Mora went 3-13 in his first season and hung around until the injury-depleted Colts went 6-10 in 2001. Ted Marchibroda started his second stint with the Colts going 9-7, dropped to 4-12 in his second season and didn't post another losing record.
The other coach, Ron Meyer was fired five games into the 1991 season after going 7-9 the previous year.
A week ago, it seemed like a formality that major changes were coming again.
But Indy's late-season success, the promising news about Manning's recovery and the possibility of losing the No. 1 pick may prompt Irsay to avoid the temptation of cleaning house.
"Obviously, I am concerned that we came out and lost 13 games," Irsay told the NFL Network before Thursday night's 19-16 victory. "But I think in terms of evaluating things, you can just look at what you have with the Texans. Their coach (Gary Kubiak) was under great fire. Most of the fans, the media and the town would have probably wanted him to be removed. (Houston owner) Bob McNair stuck with him and now (Kubiak) is very popular in Houston with this division championship.
"You know that I believe in continuity. That is something that has served us well. When you can have continuity and move in that direction, bring up people in your organization and elevate them, that is the best way to go," Irsay added. "I will have to see if that is the same direction that we go when the offseason hits."