Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged his team owner, thanked his family for its support, and wiped a tear from his eye.
He might, finally, turn out the lights in his office, too.
Nearly three months to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts’ first-year coach returned to a team eager to reunite with a boss healthy enough to go back to work.
‘‘I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989,’’ Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. ‘‘Today was No. 2. Getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car. The key fob still worked — I was beginning to question whether it would or not.”
For Pagano and the Colts, Monday morning was as precious as anyone could have imagined when Pagano took an indefinite leave to face the biggest opponent of his life, cancer.
In his absence, all the Colts did was win nine of 12 games under interim coach Bruce Arians and clinch a playoff spot before Sunday’s regular-season finale against Houston, which they pegged as the day they hoped to have Pagano back.
If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the first time since a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.
‘‘I know Chuck is ready for this challenge. In speaking to his doctor multiple times, I know that the time is right for him to grab the reins, get the head coaching cap on, and begin the journey,’’ owner Jim Irsay said. ‘‘It’s been a miraculous story.”
Pagano repeatedly thanked fans for their prayers and letters, the organization and his family for their unwavering help, and promised to provide comfort and support to other people who are facing similar fights.
‘‘I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and, again, it’s just a blessing to be back here,’’ Pagano said.
Big load to carry
Adrian Peterson is dealing with an abdominal injury, but he expects he’ll be ready Sunday to help push the Vikings (9-6) into the playoffs and make a run at Eric Dickerson’s NFL season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
Peterson is trying to become the seventh player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season; he needs 102 to join the club. The Vikings would clinch a postseason berth with a win over the Packers.
‘‘Adrian is a little bit sore with his abdominal muscle,’’ coach Leslie Frazier said. ‘‘We’ll have to see how he does this week, how much work that we’ll give him as we get ready for this ballgame.”
The Vikings are also expected to have veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield available. He suffered a small fracture in his hand in Sunday’s win over the Texans.
The Redskins (9-6) are attempting to become the first team since the 1996 Jaguars to rally from 3-6 to the playoffs. The winner of Sunday night’s game between host Washington and Dallas takes the NFC East. The Cowboys will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss. The Redskins can lose and still get a wild-card spot, but only if the Bears and Vikings lose earlier in the day.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he will tell his players that it will be a game they'll remember for the rest of their lives. The fact they’ve been playing on the brink for a month and a half should have them well-prepared.
‘‘I think they get used to the pressure,’’ the coach said. ‘‘Over the last six weeks, they knew every game was do-or-die, and they’re used to that scenario.’’
Washington safety DeJon Gomes has a second-degree sprain of the MCL in his left knee, and his status is unclear.
Tebow was willing
Tim Tebow would have done whatever Rex Ryan asked — if the Jets coach had asked him.
Ryan acknowledged Monday that Tebow wasn’t happy when the coach chose Greg McElroy to start at quarterback for the benched Mark Sanchez, but insisted Tebow was willing to play in any role Sunday against San Diego — including the Wildcat.
‘‘He was disappointed, there’s no question,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘He was disappointed that he was not named the starter, but with that being said, I'm not going to get into private conversations that I have with players.
“But I'll say this: I believe if Tim’s number was called, he would've went in and played. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.’’
ESPN New York first reported that Tebow opted out of running Wildcat plays. ESPN also reported that Tebow said his relationship with Ryan was ‘‘strained’’ for a few days, but they smoothed things over. Ryan had all three quarterbacks active for Sunday’s 27-17 loss, but Tebow never got onto the field in any capacity.
Ryan did not deny that Tebow asked out of running Wildcat plays, but also refused to go into any details of what happened.
Foles out, Vick in
Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles has a broken right hand, and coach Andy Reid said Michael Vick will likely start against the Giants in Sunday’s season finale. Foles broke his throwing hand in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to Washington, but returned to the game after X-rays at the stadium were negative. Vick hasn’t played since suffering a concussion during a loss to the Cowboys Nov. 11. He was recently cleared to return. Reid said Foles has a nondisplaced fracture and should be 100 percent in about three weeks. Foles, a third-round pick out of Arizona, completed 60.8 percent of his passes for an Eagles rookie record of 1,699 yards in seven games . . . Quarterback Carson Palmer will not play in the Raiders’ final game after sustaining cracked ribs and a bruised lung in Sunday’s loss to Carolina. Palmer was injured on a hard hit by linebacker Greg Hardy late in the first quarter. Hardy appeared to lead with his helmet and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on the play.
Major injury for Miller
Steelers tight end Heath Miller sustained multiple torn ligaments in his right knee during Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. Miller, a prime candidate for the Pro Bowl, tore anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and also has a possible tear in his posterior cruciate ligament. Typical recovery time would extend well into next season’s training camp . . . Browns coach Pat Shurmur said running back Trent Richardson (sprained left ankle) and quarterback Brandon Weeden (sore right shoulder) haven’t been ruled out of Sunday’s finale against the Steelers. Both first-round picks were hurt in Sunday’s loss in Denver. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi won’t be available; he was placed on injured reserve with a knee problem . . . A person familiar with the diagnosis said Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith escaped serious injury when he hurt his left knee in the team’s victory over Buffalo Sunday. An MRI determined the injury was only a bruise . . . The Bills placed tight end Scott Chandler on IR a day after he hurt his left knee in the loss to Miami . . . The Jaguars put wide receiver Cecil Shorts on IR following his second concussion this month.
Charles now at top
In Sunday’s game, in which the Chiefs set an NFL record for most rushing yardage in a loss (352), Jamaal Charles surpassed 750 career carries, which qualifies him for the league record for yards per carry. Charles is averaging 5.82 yards on 770 attempts, which far surpasses the 5.22 yards that Jim Brown averaged in 2,359 attempts. ‘‘Records are meant to be broken, and I always try to break records,’’ Charles said . . . The Bears agreed to a one-year contract extension with veteran long snapper Patrick Mannelly through 2013.