INDIANAPOLIS – Bruce Arians feels like he’s living out a fantasy.
After two decades as an NFL assistant and less than 12 months after being forced out as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, the Colts interim coach has delivered a memorable performance in his first – and perhaps only role as an NFL team’s leading man.
He’s won eight games since replacing the Chuck Pagano, who is recovering from leukemia. Incredibly, Arians has Indianapolis on the verge of making the playoffs. He’s guided Andrew Luck through a record-setting rookie season, has the offense clicking, the usually maligned defense believing and a forgotten special teams unit making big plays. He’s even getting mentioned as a coach of the year candidate, an award no interim coach has ever won.
Within two weeks, this made-for-Hollywood script could change again when Arians gladly hands the head coaching duties back to Pagano.
“I’ll get more sleep,” Arians joked Wednesday before turning serious. “Look, it’s been fun, and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t. But the whole goal was to keep it together until Chuck came back.”
Arians has done more than keep these Colts (9-4) unified, he’s given them purpose and direction by keeping Pagano and his battle with leukemia in the forefront. It’s true that screenwriters couldn’t have conjured up more plot twists than the feature attraction in Indianapolis. This is part “Brian’s Song,” part “Hoosiers.”
From the moment he spoke with Pagano on Sept. 30, Arians had 21 hours to adjust to the idea he was no longer just Indy’s offensive coordinator. He also needed a plan to be the interim coach. It didn’t take long for Arians to figure out what he needed to do.
As a prostate cancer survivor, Arians has been able to explain the challenge Pagano faced on Sept. 26 and the day-to-day grind he’s had since then. As one of pro football’s top tutors of young quarterbacks, Arians refused to sacrifice precious time helping Luck, carving out extra hours to meet face to face with his star rookie.
A humble man with a simple approach to life, Arians won over the veterans with substance, kept the roughly three-dozen newcomers grounded enough to focus on football, and never let these players lose sight of their overall mission: playing well until Pagano got back on the sideline. The target date for Pagano’s return is Dec. 30, Indy’s regular-season finale, and a game that could decide the AFC South title.
Bryant insists he’ll play: Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant says he will play with a broken finger Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Bryant was listed as a limited participant in practice Thursday, an upgrade from a day earlier, when he sat out. Dallas coach Jason Garrett said he caught some passes in practice after saying before the workout he didn’t think Bryant would.
Bryant said in the locker room after practice that the “only thing y’all need to know is I’m playing.”
The third-year pro fractured his left index finger in last weekend’s 20-19 win at Cincinnati. He caught a touchdown after getting injured.
Bryant practiced with a padded white glove that had the tip of the finger exposed.
RGIII practices: Robert Griffin III’s knee is looking better.
The Washington Redskins rookie was back at practice Thursday, dealing with the effects of a sprained right knee as the team prepares for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Griffin stretched and made some basic throws during the 20 minutes that the practice was open to reporters. He was still favoring his right leg somewhat, but he was able to plant and throw more smoothly than he did during Wednesday’s practice.
At one point, Griffin pantomimed taking snaps to the side while backups Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman ran a drill.
Braylon’s back: Braylon Edwards is back on the field with the New York Jets, and is expected to play against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.
Edwards was claimed off waivers from Seattle on Tuesday, reuniting the veteran wide receiver with quarterback Mark Sanchez and the team he helped lead to consecutive AFC title games in 2009 and 2010. Edwards was expected to be a limited participant at practice Thursday with a hamstring issue, but passed his physical and coach Rex Ryan is optimistic about his chances to play.
The move to bring Edwards back came a week after he called the Jets’ front office “idiots” for how the team has handled the struggling Sanchez. All was apparently forgiven and forgotten, with Ryan joking that he has been called “a lot worse.”
Coach claims witnesses lied: Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Thursday witnesses in the NFL’s bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints have lied about him and the organization, and that their stories might change in federal court.
Alluding to a defamation lawsuit filed by Saints linebacker Jon Vilma against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Vitt angrily said he feels the truth about the pay-for-pain system will come out before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who is presiding over the pending case in New Orleans.
“If anybody’s keeping a scorecard here, let’s take a look at this,” Vitt said. He referred back to his first meeting with reporters after the NFL released its bounty probe findings last March, in which he said, “At no point in time did our players ever cross the white line with the intention of injuring, maiming or ending the career of another player. That never took place.”
Then, recounting his witness appearance in Vilma’s case last summer, he added, “I’ve testified before a federal judge with my hand on the Bible.”
“What’s going to happen now is all participants, all these accusations, are going to go to federal court,” Vitt continued. “They’re going to go to a judge, and from top to bottom, she’s going to hear testimony, and the penalty for perjury with her is going to be jail time.”
Vitt’s comments came a day after the Associated Press reported that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified in recent NFL appeal hearings he tried to stop the Saints’ bounty program, only to be overruled by Vitt. The AP obtained transcripts from the closed-door hearings, which were held for Vilma and three other players who had been punished in the bounty probe.
Those same transcripts show Vitt later denied Williams’ allegation and offered to take a lie detector test, adding, “There’s a lot of lying going on right now.”
Vitt called Williams a liar repeatedly during his appeal hearing testimony, even saying Williams “has lost his mind in some situations.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been defending the integrity of his coaches, saying Wednesday it was hard to believe the NFL based its case on the testimony of Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, “two disgruntled employees that were fired here because they did not fit the mold of what we are about.”
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was appointed by Goodell to handle the players’ appeals, and on Tuesday overturned their suspensions. However, he affirmed many of the findings of the bounty probe and found that three players, with the exception of former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, committed “conduct detrimental” to the league.
Vitt has been serving as the Saints’ interim head coach this season, except for six games when he was suspended. Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire season and general manager Mickey Loomis eight games.
The players had fought their bounty punishment with the help of their union, through the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and in federal court.
“Myself, Sean and Mickey didn’t have that right,” Vitt said, referring to the fact they did not have union representation. “I’ve already served my time. Mickey has already served his time. And to be quite frank with you, I don’t know what door to knock on Park Avenue (where NFL headquarters are located) to get my reputation back. But again, I’m going to defend our players, I’m going to defend this organization and I’m going to defend our ownership.”
Vitt declined to say on Thursday whether he expects to bring any legal action of his own, though he had testified before Tagliabue that he will sue Cerullo.
Although Vilma’s case is pending, the judge denied the linebacker’s request this week to begin the discovery process that includes the gathering of evidence and deposing of witnesses, and she is still considering an NFL motion to dismiss the case.
When asked if he could take action against Goodell or the league, Vitt responded, “There’s nothing. It’s history,” but then added, “We’ll all be before a federal judge. That’s coming. We’ll all be before the federal judge. And the one great thing about this country — the truth is going to prevail.”