The Colts, with Andrew Luck running the show, are 5-3. Go figure. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

Updated at 2:39 p.m. with doctors saying Pagano’s leukemia is in remission

The Indianapolis Colts, conventional wisdom had it at the time of the NFL Draft, would struggle this season as they turned the page from the Peyton Manning era.

But the Colts, LuckStrong as well as ChuckStrong, are 5-3, with whispers of a playoff berth swirling. In late September, they lost their coach, Chuck Pagano, most likely for the season, as he undergoes treatment for leukemia. Under interim coach Bruce Arians, the Colts are 4-1 and the latest win, a 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, came with Pagano in attendance. Afterward, he gave an emotional and memorable speech to the team. It’s tough to watch without tearing up; imagine being one of his players.

Specifically, a player like Andrew Luck. How is it possible for a person to be a No. 1 draft pick and only now be the talk of the league? As the Colts won their third straight game, Luck set a rookie record with 433 yards passing, completing 30 of 48 attempts for two touchdowns. Besides the numbers, Luck was clutch when it counted most, on third downs. SI.com’s Don Banks writes:

Rookie quarterbacks aren’t really allowed to be this good on third down, but Luck was other-worldly against the Dolphins. The Colts converted on 13 of 19 third downs (68.4 percent), and six of those conversions were from 10 yards or longer. Luck threw lasers all day long, threading the needle on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone in the first quarter and adding a pretty 36-yard scoring pass to rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton in the third quarter, giving the Colts a 20-17 lead.

And Luck was a master of spreading the ball around against the tough Dolphins defense, with the Colts’ top four receivers all finishing with between five and seven catches, and each of them totaling 75 yards or more. Indy’s passing game was so good the Colts had a pair of 100-yard receivers, and neither were named Reggie Wayne. Donnie Avery led the way with five catches for 108 yards, followed by Hilton (six for 102), Wayne (seven for 78) and rookie tight end Dwayne Allen (six for 75). Luck was sacked only once.

He’s been precocious as well as productive, but both of those were expected when he was drafted. Luck, though, has something else, NFL.com’s Dan Jeremiah writes:

Luck’s combination of physical tools, football instincts and ability to handle pressure make him a very rare player. Good quarterbacks possess two of those traits, but the great ones have all three. Luck has consistently displayed the arm strength and accuracy to make every throw on the field. He’s continually exhibited the football instincts to create plays when things break down around him, and he’s proven he can handle pressure situations by guiding the Colts offense on four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.

After the game, Luck told SI.com’s Peter King just how much Pagano’s presence meant to him and his teammates..

“Coach Pagano’s a inspiration,” Luck said. “When I found out this morning he’d be here, I was giddy. Excited. Jacked to see him in the flesh. We all were. I love him. We all do.”

This afternoon, Dr. Larry Cripe, associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University Health Simon Cancer Center said that Pagano can now be considered to be in remission (via the Indianapolis Star). He is not, however, considered to be cured and his disease, acute promyelocytic leukemia, can recur if only one round of chemotherapy is given. Protocol calls calls for three rounds, followed by maintenance treatment over about two years. The second round of chemo will not be as intense as the first.

A bone marrow aspirate showed no evidence of the leukemia, but, Cripe said, “We need to keep going and we will not be able to use the word ‘cure’ for four or five years.”

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