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Indianapolis Colts remain in AFC South division hunt despite absence of Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS — With his Indianapolis Colts off to a 2-3 start to the season, head coach Chuck Pagano is looking ahead to Monday night’s nationally televised game with AFC South rival Tennessee.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are holding down first place in the division with a 3-2 record. But after that, it’s a three-way tie for second (or last, depending on your point of view) between Houston, the Titans and the Colts. All three teams have the same 2-3 record.

That’s why this week’s game is a crucial one for both Indianapolis and Tennessee.

Whichever squad can pull off a win at Nissan Stadium in Nashville can take a positive step forward in the division. A loss, however, could make things tougher for either team to make a push to the post-season.

Pagano says that he doesn’t look at the division standings.

“I couldn’t tell you who’s (where in the division). Honestly, I have no clue,” the Colts coach said. “I think our record is 2-3. We had one goal and one goal only and that was to start the second quarter of the season 1-0.

“We accomplished that goal. So now the goal this week is win one game and try to be 2-0 in the second quarter. We’ve got a division opponent on the road on Monday Night Football. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

While Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota missed last week’s game with Miami due to injury issues, Pagano figures he’ll be back to face Indianapolis.

“We’re fully confident, reading between the lines,” that Mariota will line up as the starter against the Colts. “We’re going to practice like it’s going to be (Mariota),” the Colts coach said.

Other than the quarterback, Pagano knows that slowing down the Titans’ run game will be crucial.

“First thing we talked about,” he said. “Dealing with the run, eliminating big plays. You must be disciplined.”

One thing the Colts are continuing to work on is the ability to close out games. Heading into the sixth game of the season, Indianapolis’ second-half struggles are still a major issue.

“I think you don’t ever want to take your foot off the gas. I think you’ve got to be smart. It still comes down to execution, communication (and) being on the same page,” Pagano stressed. “We’ll continue to address it and do what we have to do to try and eliminate those miscues.”

This week’s trip to Nashville will be the first division road trip for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Brissett has yet to win an NFL road game in which he started, losing his only road start this season at Seattle (46-18) two weeks ago.

The former North Carolina State signal-caller, though, has played relatively well since taking over as the starter in the second week of the regular season. There have been some bumps in the road, such as two driving-killing interceptions in overtime against Arizona and San Francisco.

Still, Pagano likes what he seen so far.

“He’s a competitor. He’s got that great mental toughness,” the Colts coach said, adding that the quarterback’s ability to bounce back from bad plays has been impressive.

“It’s like watching Major League. All he’s missing is the glasses with the tape. He’s got a little ‘Wild Thing’ in him. But he’s awesome. He’s an all-star. He’s a great teammate. This guy, he’s got it. He’s got the ‘it’ factor. He’s a talented, talented guy. He brings energy. He’s brings juice.”

Pagano firmly believes that Indianapolis is a better football team now than the one that started the season with a one-sided road loss to the Rams.

“We’re smarter, communicating better, practicing better. (We’re) more efficient than the team we saw in Los Angeles. (The) young guys are growing,” he said.

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