Cory Redding proved true to his word. And he was not alone.
It might be easy to forget certain aspects of a particular game in the lengthy grind of an NFL regular season. Indianapolis Colts offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo conceded the memories all tend to blur by January.
But Costanzo, Redding and other Colts remember the on-field assurances given at the end of the Colts’ 31-24 loss at Denver in the season opener way back on Sept. 7.<.p>
“We’ll see you again.”
Several Colts made that promise to the Broncos.
It stands out because when I spoke to Redding in the locker room that night, the defensive end didn’t hesitate to share the words spoken at the end of that game.
And he told me to write it. The big guy was emphatic.
It was written then, and mentioned again now, after the Colts earned that trip to Sports Authority Field at Mile High for a rematch with the Broncos by virtue of a 26-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Ain’t no doubt. Ain’t no doubt,” Redding said after defeating the Bengals to get an AFC Divisional playoff shot at Peyton Manning and the second-seeded Broncos (12-4) next Sunday at 4:40 p.m.
“That’s how it works. I believed that, man. We told them guys on the field that we’d see ‘em again and it just so happens it got dialed up like that. We’ve got to go out there and play a better game than we did the first week and continue to just keep on playing lights out football.”
Some might say be careful what you wish for, especially Manning, once the 14-year face of this Colts franchise and a five-time NFL MVP. The Broncos have been installed overnight as touchdown favorites.
But the fourth-seeded, underdog Colts couldn’t care less. The postseason is about going up against elite players and, in this instance, embracing the challenge of facing the defending AFC champions in a hostile environment. It’s the only way a 12-5 team that lost to playoff qualifiers Denver, New England, Dallas and Pittsburgh can prove to be a Super Bowl contender, not a pretender.
“Oh yeah, I wanted it. Why not?” Redding said. “You want to complete. You want to compete against the best. It don’t matter, man, whether it was Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Both of them are excellent opportunities to showcase what you have.”
The Colts tried to show against Cincinnati that they have a fighter’s chance. Quarterback Andrew Luck was masterful in his 376-passing-yard, one-TD, zero-turnover performance. And the defense didn’t allow a second-half point while limiting the Bengals to just 98 total yards after halftime.
“As soon as it got to zero, I’m like, ‘Alright, DeMarcus Ware preparation starts right now,” Castonzo said of the Broncos’ pass rusher, who had 10 sacks this season. “You can’t have any time to relax. It’s playoffs. Everyone is coming with their best. I’ve got one of the best next week and that preparation mentally starts right now.”
Castonzo recalled how his last trip to Denver concluded, if nothing else.
“Yeah, I think that was kind of a mutual thing at the end of that game,” said the fourth-year pro. “I think they kind of expected to see us again and we expected to see them again. I remember very little from the season because it’s just kind of like you’re always looking forward to the next game, but from what I remember of that game, it was a hard-fought game. I would expect nothing less.
“It wasn’t trash talk. We just expected them to win the games to where we would see them again. It was mutual respect.”
Outside linebacker Erik Walden isn’t shy about expressing himself on the field, so of course he hasn’t forgotten Denver.
“You know you’re going to have go through New England and you’re going to have to play Denver, you’re going to have to play those two teams guaranteed at some point,” Walden said. “I feel like everybody feels like that. ‘We’ll see you again.’ That was my mind-set, too.
“We’re going to see you again, yeah. We started so slow. We were playing so terrible and then we had a shot at the end to make a comeback. I know everybody remembers that and it left a nasty taste.”
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois remembers Denver, too.
“Who doesn’t want to see Peyton Manning again?” he said. “That’s the guy that beat us. Now we’ve got everything on the line, single-game elimination, we’ve got him in his building in the atmosphere he wants, in the elevation.
“We want to line up and actually play against this team. We want to give this team everything we know we’ve got against them.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.