INDIANAPOLIS – One of the strongest characteristics of a coach or anyone in a position of authority is understanding you’re not the smartest guy in the room.
So Frank Reich has listened, gleaned, learned and grown.
His willingness not only to seek counsel but use the various messages was evident as he addressed his Indianapolis Colts in their early-week preparation for Saturday’s first-round playoff game at Buffalo.
No one can argue with the urgency of the moment. It’s sudden death. Win and advance. Lose and go home.
Reich’s mind flashed back to talks he shared with a pair of coaching colleagues who have bronze busts in Canton, Ohio.
“I hear the echoes of Marv Levy and Tony Dungy and many others who have had an influence on me,’’ he said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call.
Levy’s Buffalo Bills are the only team in NFL history to reach four consecutive Super Bowls. In 2006, Dungy’s Colts brought the franchise its first world championship in nearly three decades. They had talent-laden rosters that featured Hall of Fame talent, but the message never wavered going into each pressurized playoff game.
Do the ordinary things extraordinarily well.
That was the crux of Reich’s Tuesday message.
“What we talked about today as a team was, ‘What will cause us to win this game is our players during ordinary things in an extraordinary manner,’’’ he said. “It’s really about what we do. Resist the temptation in these moments to try to be a hero. Resist the temptation in these moments to try to over-coach players. Resist the tendency to over-scheme . . .
“You’ve got to do what you do well.’’
Somewhere on that video link with the players, Philip Rivers undoubtedly was nodding his approval.
No one needs to tell him the significance of what awaits the Colts at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y. It’ll be the 12th playoff appearance of his 17-year career, but everyone understands there’s no guarantee Rivers will be given an opportunity to return for an 18th season. He’s working on a one-year, $25 million contract.
In the moment, it’s all about seizing it. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Obviously I’ve been in quite a few of these games: you win and advance, you lose you go home,’’ Rivers said.
What’s imperative, he added, “is doing the little things right. We don’t have to do anything different now. It’s not like, ‘Well man, we made it to the postseason so now let’s really prepare hard, and let’s really put in our best stuff, and let’s really try our hardest to do things right.’
“If that were to be true then we’d been cheating each other for 16 games.’’
The Buffalo Bills arguably are the NFL’s hottest team. They’re 13-3, have won nine of their last 10 and scored at least 30 points in six of the last eight. They feature a legitimate MVP candidate in quarterback Josh Allen, and wideout Stefon Diggs is the first Bill to lead the league in receptions (127) and yards (1,535).
“This is a heckuva team we’re playing,’’ Rivers conceded.
Only a superior game from the Colts and Rivers will suffice.
“We do have to make some plays, obviously,’’ he said, “but you don’t have to do anything unbelievable. Just go play sound football, complementary football together and believe if we do that, it’ll be enough.’’
Early in his career, Rivers admitted he might have been “tight’’ going into a playoff game.
“That’s one thing I’ve gotten a little better at,’’ he said. “Shoot, play focused but play free. That gives yourself the best chance to win and to play well.
“It’s to not play hoping you don’t mess it up or thinking about not messing up. It’s to go play.’’
That’s been the overriding lesson he’s taken from his 11 playoff starts. The highlight moments don’t necessarily resonate. The lasting memory is when things were done correctly – sometimes in an extraordinary fashion – and produced the desired results.
“I’ve been part of some big playoff wins,’’ said Rivers, who’s 5-6 as a postseason starter. “The games we’ve won, you didn’t go back and go, ‘Man, let’s make a highlight tape from that win.’ Yeah, there were some good plays in that game, but we just played sound football. We didn’t turn it over. We played the field-position game when we needed to. We got a big turnover from our defense. We did all of those things.
“And in the games we lost . . .’’
The 2007 AFC Championship jumped to the front of Rivers’ mind. His 13-5 Chargers traveled to Foxborough, Mass. for a showdown with the 17-0 New England Patriots.
While Tom Brady was directing the Patriots to a pair of first-half TDs, Rivers was suffering a pair of second-quarter interceptions. His offense settled for three first-half field goals and the Chargers trailed 14-9 at the break. There was another Nate Kaeding field goal in the third quarter, and a Brady TD to Wes Welker in the fourth quarter that delivered the 21-12 victory.
In his five playoff wins, Rivers’ has completed 65.4% of his passes with five TDs, three interceptions and a 93.0 rating. In his six losses, he’s been a 55.9% passer with nine TDs, seven interceptions and a 78.9 rating.
“I could go through all of them,’’ Rivers said. “Really just solidifies how I feel. Yeah, we’ve got to make some plays. You have to be able to fit a throw in there every now and then and make a conversion and get a chunk play and do all those things.
“We can’t go out there and say we’re just going to hand it off and be very careful and we’ll win because we’re playing too good of a team that you can’t not play free and use the playmakers we have.
“It’s going to come down to fundamentals, technique and situational football and taking care of the football. On the teams that I’ve been on and we have done that, it’s usually worked out pretty good. And when we haven’t, well, you end up falling up short.’’
Reich was instrumental in Rivers’ relocation to Indy in the offseason. He remained firmly in Rivers’ corner even when there were early-season stumbles, most notably in the season-opening loss at Jacksonville and the error-filled loss at Cleveland.
Not once did Reich consider yanking Rivers.
“There were so many positive things that he was doing,’’ Reich said. “It didn’t even creep it at all . . . besides those (bad plays), the rest of the plays were so stinking good. That’s why that thought never even crossed my mind.
“You [play] this position, it’s an interesting ride, and you’ve got to be able to endure that. I think he’s done a really great job of that his whole career and was just confident that whatever minor setbacks he had along the way that they were minor.
“I was confident that when it was all said and done, the overarching trajectory of what he would do this year for our team would be an arrow-up and see him getting better and better, and I believe that’s come to fruition.’’
Missing spot on NFL resume?
Rivers insisted he isn’t preoccupied with that hole on his resume. He’s started 251 consecutive games, including the playoffs, but none has occurred on the Super Bowl stage.
“I really don’t (worry about it),’’ he said. “It’s really hard to put into words and make someone understand or believe you, I guess. Yeah, do I want to be part of a team and help a team win a championship? Or course. But that’s not the only driving factor to play, it’s really not. It’s everything that comes with it.
“Is that the ultimate goal this year and right now as we sit here? No question it is. But I don’t carry that with me day-to-day that, ‘Man, played 16 years and never been part of a championship.’ I really don’t.
“We strive for it every year and striving for it like crazy this year, but it’s not something that I feel heavy or something that I’m carrying around with me. Shoot, it’s a new beginning every day and excited for each challenge and opportunity.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.