INDIANAPOLIS — Colts coach Chuck Pagano walked into a refreshed meeting room Monday.
Players were focused, excited and eager to get back to work as they embark on a critical two-week stretch that could dictate their fate in the AFC South.
No, one week wasn't enough to get everyone healthy, but it was long enough to give these players time to rest, recover and recharge before turning their competitive switch back on.
"You've got to, you're a professional," cornerback Darius Butler said. "Even on the off time, you're still watching film, still rehabbing, still talking to some of the guys. You've always got to stay tuned in and you're right back to it on Monday."
Little had changed since Pagano rewarded the Colts (5-2) for last week's win over Peyton Manning and previously unbeaten Denver by giving them one full week away from practice — rather than just the four days required by NFL rules.
Tennessee (3-4) and Houston (2-5) both had bye weeks, too, leaving the AFC South title chase in exactly the same place the Colts left it.
Indy (5-2) was dealing with yet another homecoming, Andrew Luck's return to Houston where he played prep football, as they prepared for the two-time defending division champs.
And the Colts were still preparing for life without Reggie Wayne. The perennial Pro Bowl receiver, who is eighth in league history in receptions (1,006) and had season-ending surgery Friday for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It's the first time since 2002 that the Colts put together a game plan without Wayne in the mix.
"He's in good spirits, rehabbing three times a day, grinding it out as we would all expect. He's doing well," Pagano said. "He'll be back here eventually. As soon as they let him, he's good enough to travel and all that stuff."
In the meantime, the Colts must replace his productivity.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland's first-round pick in 2008, and T.Y. Hilton, a second-year receiver who led all rookies in TD receptions (seven) and set a franchise rookie record with five 100-yard games last season, will both be asked to do more.
Tight end Coby Fleener, a second-round pick in 2012 who has played the past six seasons with Luck, is likely to play a bigger role in the offense, too.
On Monday, the Colts made it clear they expect another key cog from the Stanford class of 2012 to pitch in by promoting Griff Whalen from the practice squad to the active roster.
Whalen was an undrafted rookie who spent last season on injured reserve. He played in three games in September, caught two passes for 28 yards, then was cut and brought back to the practice squad Oct. 1.
"Very excited for Griff," Luck said. "It's a good chance for him. He's always been ready and ready to roll."
The Colts have to be ready to go, too.
They have no scheduled breaks between now and the Dec. 29 regular-season finale against Jacksonville and are about to face one of this season's most daunting stretches.
After visiting Houston this weekend, for a third straight prime-time game, they return home to face struggling St. Louis on Nov. 10 followed by yet another night game Nov. 14 at Tennessee.
Win all three and the Colts would extend their division lead, be 3-0 in division games — with all three wins on the road — and head into a well-deserved long weekend in control of the AFC South title chase.
The tough stretch starts Sunday against Houston, which has lost five straight and has gone from preseason Super Bowl contender to major disappointment in half a season.
Linebacker Brian Cushing is out with a season-ending knee injury, Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub is out with an ankle injury, backup quarterback T.J. Yates lost the replacement job to Case Keenum, running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson have played through injuries and opposing defenses have scored at least one touchdown in each of the past six weeks.
Indy is under no illusions, though.
"They are a dangerous team, point blank, period," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "Their scheme, the things they do, they do well. Make no mistake about it, we're not looking at their record because they are the two-time AFC South champions and we respect them as such."
And after taking a weeklong break, the Colts are ready to go.
"They were sharp as a tack," Pagano said. "Moved around, fresh legs, that whole thing. They were excellent."
Notes: Linebacker Bjoern Werner, Indy's No. 1 draft pick, returned to practice for the first time since sustaining a foot injury against Jacksonville on Sept. 29. ... The Colts also signed center Thomas Austin to the practice squad and waived offensive tackle Xavier Nixon.
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