NFL notebook: Arians has Colts in contention depsite interim role

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INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck are getting all the national attention.


Talk to anyone in the Colts locker room, and they’ll tell you interim coach Bruce Arians is a major part in Indianapolis’ stunning turnaround, too. Maybe the biggest contributor of all.


“I call him the MVP of our team because he came in and kept things churning along,” outside linebacker Robert Mathis said Monday. “He’s making sure we take care of Chuck’s legacy.”


Arians is doing things the way he always has – with a passionate, down-to-earth, fun-loving personality and a relentless desire to get things right.


So while the rest of the football world looks at Luck’s progression and Pagano’s personal battle, Arians has been doing the dirty work to keep this rebuilding project on task.


Nobody can quibble with the results.


In the six weeks since replacing his close friend, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia Sept. 26, Arians has led the Colts to a 6-3 record and surprisingly into the playoff hunt. He’s managed to keep the lines of communication open with Luck, found the right balance between being the head coach and offensive coordinator and even shocked the defensive players by cheering at practice when they come up with turnovers.


He talks and texts regularly with his close friend, serving as both a messenger between the ailing coach and his players and a confidant to Pagano about what is coming next on and off the field.


“The chemo is hitting him pretty good right now, it’s been pretty rough,” said Arians, a 60-year-old prostate cancer survivor. “He’s experiencing that downhill slide now, but he’s tough, he’ll get through it.”


Few have seen what Arians has done behind the walls, though.


He’s been working overtime to meet with Luck. He’s carved out extra time to deal with the media requirements. He’s worked hard to keep Pagano and his battle front and center, attending three fundraisers in the past six weeks and urging others to make time as well. On Friday, Arians, Luck and Reggie Wayne will host another fundraiser at a sold-out restaurant in downtown Indy.


And yet, he never lost sight of his job.


The former Steelers assistant coach has helped the Colts make a seamless transition from Peyton Manning to Luck, the new face of this franchise, and one of the league’s youngest offenses is now ranked fifth overall and eighth in yards passing.


“He’s done a good job keeping us focused on what our mission is, what our objective is,” outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. “He doesn’t stray far from what Chuck wants. It’s kind of a two-sided monster – it’s Chuck being there and him (Arians) keeping that ship well-oiled and maintained.”


Munchak gives Titans week off: Tennessee coach Mike Munchak wants the Titans to rest up as much as possible now that they’re finally getting a break.


Munchak put his team through a light workout Monday, then gave them the rest of the week off. The Titans aren’t due back at work until next Monday when Munchak plans to put them through a practice in preparation for a visit to Jacksonville (1-8).


This is the latest bye for this franchise since the open week went into effect in 1990, and Munchak said he prefers the bye at the midpoint of the season.


Still, the Titans (4-6) can rest easy.


A week after being put on notice by the owner, they responded with their biggest win of the season – beating Miami 37-3.


“It’s just something we need, mentally and physically because of what we’ve been through,” Munchak said. “I’m glad we won it because we needed it. It will be a lot easier to mentally be more positive when we do come back. I think we will be fine.”


Falcons release Edwards: Ray Edwards was supposed to give the Atlanta Falcons a fearsome pass rush.


Turns out, he wasn’t even good enough to stay on the team.


The Falcons released Edwards, a bold move by a first-place team coming off its first loss of the season.


Still, it really wasn’t all that surprising given the stunning lack of production by Edwards since signing a five-year, $30 million deal that included $11 million in guaranteed money.


The 27-year-old defensive end provided little help in his first year with the Falcons, and his playing time steadily dwindled this season. He had started just four of nine games, and was credited with nine tackles and no sacks.


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