Tearful Pagano back on job after leukemia treatment
INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged his team owner, thanked his family for its support and wiped a tear from his eye.
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. When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow. Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That’s what I have to come back to.”
The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion.
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, make a historic turnaround and clinch a playoff spot all 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.
Pagano endured three rounds of chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission.
That Pagano’s return came less than 24 hours after Indy (10-5) locked up the No. 5 seed in the AFC and the day before Christmas seemed fitting.
“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. It really is a book. It’s a fairy tale. It’s a Hollywood script. It’s all those things but it’s real.”
He is returning to a vastly different team than the one he turned over to Arians, his long-time friend and first assistant coaching hire.
Back then, the Colts were 1-2 and most of the so-called experts had written them off as one of the league’s worst teams.
Pagano also has changed. The salt-andpepper hair and trademark goatee that were missing in November have returned, and the thinner man who appeared to be catching his breath during a postgame speech in early November, looked and sounded as good as ever Monday. Pagano never really left. He continually watched practice tape and game film on his computer, used phone calls and text messages to regularly communicate with players and occasionally delivered a pregame or postgame speech to his team.
By Kristie Rieken HOUSTON — The Houston Texans blew a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with Sunday’s ugly loss to Minnesota.
They’ll get another opportunity to do it in the regular-season finale at Indianapolis next Sunday. But a loss could drop them to third in the AFC.
If Houston loses to the Colts and both Denver and New England win, the Texans could fall to the third-seed and lose not only home-field advantage, but also a first-round bye. If Indianapolis beats Houston and Denver loses or New England loses or ties, Houston will still get a bye.
They can also get home-field advantage with a loss if the Broncos lose and the Patriots lose or tie.
To do that, coach Gary Kubiak will need to correct many problems on his team. The biggest one, he says, is improving on third downs. Houston (123) has struggled in that area recently. Against the Vikings was the worst yet as the Texans converted 1 of 11 chances.
“Obviously, we’ve got a problem on third downs right now,” he said. “It has not been good the last three weeks. If there was one problem, we’d go address that. There’s many, many issues going on. But there is one consistent issue and the consistent issue is third-andlong.”
A glaring reason why there’s been so many long-yardage situations is the inability to run well on first and second downs. Nine of Houston’s 11 third downs were 8 yards or longer Sunday. Of those nine, five came after Houston had running plays for no gain or negative yardage on first or second down.
“That’s not the type of play we’re accustomed to having,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “We’ve got to get 5 and 6 then bust out a big one. When have those 2-yard runs and set up a third-and-8, thirdand-7, it’s tough. Against a good defense it’s going to be hard to convert those third and longs. We just continue to put ourselves in those situations.”
Houston has converted 10 of 38 third down attempts in its last three games, which included two losses. Some have blamed quarterback Matt Schaub for the third down woes. But Kubiak said he’s only part of the problem, and that the running backs, linemen, receivers and even the coaches have to get better for things to change.
The success of Kubiak’s offense is predicated on running the ball well. So he was troubled when he reviewed the game and realized they didn’t have a single running play on third down against the Vikings.
“For us to do what we do best, there’s a percentage of those that we need to be in position to line up and run the football, and we haven’t done that in the last month,” Kubiak said.
The Texans had a season-low 34 yards rushing on Sunday. Their running game was hurt by Arian Foster playing little more than a half before leaving with an irregular heartbeat. Foster, who had a season-worst 10 carries for 15 yards on Sunday, underwent tests Monday and is OK.
“I appreciate all the concern and support,” Foster tweeted. “I am doing well. Saw a cardiologist today and everything is back to normal.”
Kubiak expects him to play Sunday.
Arian Foster left Sunday’s game with an irregular heartbeat. He tweeted Monday that tests showed he is “back to normal.”
Chuck Pagano wipes a tear during a news conference announcing his return after undergoing leukemia treatment.