INDIANAPOLIS — Robert Mathis insists momentum matters.
He remembers Indianapolis pulling things together to make a Super Bowl run following the 2006 season and realizes six of the past eight Super Bowl champs played on wild-card weekend. The teams that survive and advance this time of year are the ones capable of cranking up the intensity while minimizing mistakes.
Yes, the new NFL sacks champion has done his homework and figures that model bodes well for his Colts.
“I think if you check the last six Super Bowl winners, they got hot at the right time,” Mathis said Monday. “That’s what it’s all about, getting hot at the right time.”
No team has done that better this season than the AFC South champions.
Only one of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams heads into the postseason with a longer winning streak than Indy (11-5). San Diego has won four straight. The Colts, Carolina and San Francisco each have won three in a row. But Indy’s resume may be the most impressive of the group.
In a league where one-possession games are the norm, Indy has won its past three all by 16 or more points including a 23-7 victory at Kansas City (11-5) on Dec. 22.
During that stretch, Indy is plus-seven in turnovers, has allowed only two touchdowns, outscored opponents 78-20 and seen Andrew Luck complete nearly 67 percent of his passes.
The offense has 106 points in the past 14 quarters, a per game average of 30.2. Indy heads into the postseason with the fewest turnovers (14) and fewest penalties (66) in the league, a 4-2 mark against playoff teams and a 3-1 record against teams with five or fewer losses.
The Colts are playing their best football of the season and at just the right time — heading into Saturday’s rematch with the Chiefs (11-5), who have lost five of their past seven.
“That’s our goal,” running back Donald Brown said, “getting better each week, learning from our mistakes and just moving forward.”
Mathis knows better than most that getting hot doesn’t guarantee anything in the playoffs.
He was around when Indy:
— went 13-0 in 2005 and wound up losing in the divisional round to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.
— started 14-0 in 2009, then threw away a possible perfect season to chase a second Super Bowl title before losing to New Orleans in Miami.
— and in 2008, when the Colts thought they were ready for another deep playoff run after finishing the regular season with nine straight wins. Then came an overtime loss at San Diego.
This time may be different. After six up-and-down weeks of alternating narrow wins and blowout losses, contending with agonizingly slow starts and the constant injury battle, the Colts’ called a players-only meeting to discuss fixes.
“It was guys meeting, men talking and holding each other accountable,” Mathis said, declining to reveal details of the private discussion.
Whatever was said, worked.
After weeks of struggling without Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne, the Colts trotted out a no-huddle offense and Luck delivered.
He started hooking up with young receivers such as Da’Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill, which opened things up for T.Y. Hilton. The benching of Trent Richardson gave Brown a chance to prove his value and he finished the season averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Indy’s constantly shifting offensive line, which has started six different combinations over the past six weeks, responded by allowing just three sacks in three weeks. And the defense has limited opponents to just nine third-down conversions in 37 chances in the past three games.
“I think the key to it is now we’ve had the same guys in the lineup a little bit more so we’re kind of feeling comfortable with each other knowing who is out there,” said kicker Adam Vinatieri, a four-time Super Bowl champ.
“I think guys are really, really trying to do the extra little stuff to get us to the next level. If that’s on the iPads, if that’s more meeting time, if that’s a little more field time, if it’s more time in the training room to make sure you can get as healthy as you can so you can play the best that you can. I think that focus is really amped up.”