Colts 28, Texans 16

Chuck Pagano’s return inspires victory by Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano put on his dancing shoes and savored every moment of Sunday’s postgame celebration.

He took his customary linebacker stance on the sideline, hands on bended knees. He signaled touchdowns when the Colts scored, patted Deji Karim on the helmet after a 101-yard kickoff return for a game-changing TD, and gestured for penalty flags to be thrown.


And after Indianapolis beat AFC South champion Houston, 28-16, Pagano even tossed aside the stodgy image of an NFL coach and began jumping around with players, assistant coaches, and team owner Jim Irsay like he was a kid again.

Why not?

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‘‘There was a lot of high-fiving, a lot of dancing, a lot of hugging going on, and a lot of celebrating,’’ an emotional Pagano said. ‘‘There’s a lot to celebrate right now.’’

It started with Pagano’s return. He took an indefinite leave Sept. 26 to begin the first of three rounds of chemotherapy for leukemia Sept. 26, and didn’t make it back to the sideline until Sunday when the cancer was in complete remission.

Fans gave him a standing ovation after a one-minute video played on the stadium’s two Jumbotrons just before kickoff, a choked-up Pagano holding his tears in check.


When he left the field, he hugged everybody in sight before moving the postgame party to the locker room, where Irsay presented him with a game ball and they did a do-si-do together.

‘‘Guys really did not want to lose in his first game back and heading into the playoffs,’’ rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said. ‘‘To get a win, I think means the world to him.’’

Luck, as usual, had a big hand in the win. He was 14 of 28 for 191 yards with two more TDs and no interceptions.

He wasn’t alone, though.

Karim swung the game with the kickoff return just seconds after the Texans took their only lead, and when Luck converted on third and 23 with a 70-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter, the crowd was in a frenzy.

The Colts (11-5) will play at Baltimore in the wild-card round next weekend. The slumping Texans (12-4) finished with three losses in four games and dropped all the way to the third seed after Denver and New England won. The Texans will face the Bengals next weekend.

‘‘We had a great opportunity the last two weeks, but we won’t feel sorry for ourselves,’’ Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after giving Pagano a hug and whispering in his ear after the game.

‘‘We’ll focus on keeping our confidence up, even if we have to play next week.’’

And Indy completed the second-greatest turnaround in league history — winning nine more games than it did in 2011.

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