INDIANAPOLIS — Colts coach Chuck Pagano has kept it loose all week.
He has been cracking jokes, encouraging laughter and trying to put football in perspective. He does not want today's playoff game to change the routine, so he is imploring the Colts to make this business as usual, even with the Chiefs coming to town for an AFC wild-card game.
"It's no time to pressure up. It's no time to get outside of anything you've done at this point," Pagano said. "You come in, you meet, you have a walkthrough, you practice well and then you play well. Don't do anything different. Just understand what's at stake. It is one-and-done."
Pagano has seen what happens when teams play tight. So have Colts fans, more times than they care to count. Last year against Baltimore, Indy managed only three field goals in a 24-9 loss as a bunch of Colts made their postseason debuts.
"There can be a little more focus during the week. There can be some more distractions. That's where you really need to sort of hunker down," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "As far as playing the game and practice, we've gotten to this point doing some things well."
Now, it's the Chiefs' turn.
Coach Andy Reid and new general manager John Dorsey followed the same plan Pagano and Ryan Grigson used to rebuild the Colts: new coach, new GM, new quarterback, new roster. Kansas City, like the Colts, went from 2-14 to 11-5 and back to the playoffs with nearly two dozen first- or second-year guys.
A few of the playoff veterans now find themselves explaining to teammates what to expect.
"I know my first time, I acted like a rookie. I was excited and fumbled the ball twice," AFC rushing champ Jamaal Charles said. "Now I'm going in my second time … I really want this, I really want to go far, and if I have to put the team on my back, I will."
Former Colts coach Tony Dungy usually told players something else: Most playoff games are lost rather than won, and the teams that fare best stick to the plan. Translation: Trying to do too much will only get you and your teammates in trouble.
The trick is finding the right balance when the stakes are high.
"Nine years, three postseason appearances. You're very fortunate when you get here," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "My message to the young guys is you have to take advantage of this. You never know when you'll get back. It's not the time to play uptight. It's the time to go all-out."