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.
He might finally turn out the lights in his office, too.
Nearly three months after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts' first-year coach returned to his duties.
While he was out and enduring three rounds of chemotherapy, the team went 9-3 and clinched a playoff berth under interim coach Bruce Arians.
"I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989," Pagano said of 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. … When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? … That's what I have to come back to."
The comment turned tears into laughter.
The Colts won nine of 12 in a turnaround from a 2-14 mark last year. If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will return to the sideline for Sunday's regular-season finale against Houston for his first game since Week 3 against Jacksonville.
"I know Chuck is ready for this challenge," owner Jim Irsay said. "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. It's been a miraculous story."
Arians and first-year general manager Ryan Grigson left the lights on in Pagano's office until he returned.
TEBOW WILLING? Jets coach Rex Ryan said Tim Tebow wasn't happy when Greg McElroy was named starter for Sunday's loss to San Diego, but he insisted Tebow was willing to play any role, including plays out of the wildcat offense. ESPN had reported that Tebow, a Heisman winner at Florida, asked out of his wildcat duties early last week after McElroy replaced Mark Sanchez as starter.
SHURMUR DEFENDS METHODS: Though two of his prized rookies got hurt, Browns coach Pat Shurmur defended playing his regulars late in a 34-12 loss in Denver. Trent Richardson (left ankle) and Brandon Weeden (right shoulder) were injured in the second half. "What do we do, just stop playing?" Shurmur said. "So you just run the ball and get out of there, warm up the buses?" Shurmur said he hoped Weeden and Richardson could play Sunday in Pittsburgh.
FOLES OUT, VICK TO START: 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 finale. Vick and Reid are nearly certain to be leaving Philadelphia after the season.
NEWTON UNDER REVIEW: The league is reviewing Cam Newton's contact with a game official Sunday against Oakland and could fine the Panthers' quarterback, the Charlotte Observer reported. After being taken down by Raiders safety Mike Mitchell following a short pass in the fourth quarter, Newton yelled at referee Jerome Boger, bumping him and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Boger told a pool reporter he misspoke when he announced a personal foul against Newton was for bumping an official. He said he penalized Newton for "disrespectfully addressing" him and the contact wasn't of a "malicious nature." Newton apologized to Boger after the game.
PORTER CASE: Authorities said former Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter was released from a California jail after paying $70,000 owed to the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Prosecutor Samuel Bateman said Porter was arrested over the weekend on a theft and bad check complaint filed this year.
RAIDERS: Quarterback Carson Palmer (cracked ribs, bruised lung) will miss Sunday's finale against the Chargers.
STEELERS: Tight end Heath Miller tore his right ACL and MCL, and possibly his PCL, against the Bengals. Typical recovery time would extend well into next season's training camp.