Following a sluggish start, the Green Bay Packers like the direction their offense is headed.
The Indianapolis Colts still have plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, but the play on the field isn't their only concern.
After learning their coach could miss the rest of the season recovering from cancer, the Colts will be playing for Chuck Pagano in Sunday's matchup with the visiting Packers.
In a somber news conference Monday, Indianapolis (1-2) announced Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia and is expected to be hospitalized six to eight weeks as he undergoes treatment. The first-year coach, who turned 52 years old Tuesday, will be treated with chemotherapy and drugs, said Dr. Larry Cripe, Pagano's physician.
"I think short of death, this is the worst type of news you want to hear," Andrew Luck said. "We'll do everything we can in honor of what coach Pagano is going through in honor of his fight, which is much more important than this kid's game we play."
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, will coach Indianapolis on an interim basis, though Pagano probably won't resume his full coaching duties this season. The Colts, who are coming off their bye week, are hoping they can make the playoffs to give Pagano a better shot at returning, and at the very least, win this week for their coach.
"I know in meeting with the team, in meeting with the coaches, there's nothing more than we want to get that Green Bay game ball and have a victory game ball and be able to walk that into the hospital and put that in his hands," team owner Jim Irsay said. "That's our goal."
That might not be easy, however, given the way Green Bay (2-2) looked in beating New Orleans 28-27 last Sunday.
The Packers got in the end zone on their second possession -- the first time all season they scored in the first quarter -- and finished with their highest scoring output of the season. They had averaged 19.0 points in their first three games after averaging 35.0 -- the fifth-highest total in NFL history -- a year ago.
"The offense (was) playing more the way we're accustomed to playing here the last couple years," Aaron Rodgers said. "Felt good to get back on track. Felt good to score in the first half and first quarter. ... It was important for us to start fast."
Rodgers, who had been in the middle of the offensive struggles, finished with seasons highs of 319 yards and four touchdowns and wasn't sacked. The reigning league MVP had averaged 248.3 yards with three TDs and two picks while getting sacked 16 times in his first three games.
The ground game also got in gear, with Cedric Benson rushing for a season-best 84 yards on 18 carries. The Packers finished with 102 rushing yards, and have won both their games when eclipsing 100 yards on the ground.
"If we keep that going, we can run the table here," tight end Jermichael Finley said.
Although Indianapolis outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (sprained ankle) is expected to return, Green Bay could be poised for another big game against a Colts team allowing an average of 27.7 points. A critical mistake by Indianapolis' defense in its last game against Jacksonville on Sept. 23 cost the team a shot at victory.
After taking a 17-16 lead with 56 seconds to go on an Adam Vinatieri field goal, the Colts abruptly allowed an 80-yard touchdown pass and suffered a 22-17 defeat.
The defense, however, wasn't the only unit at fault.
Vinatieri, the best clutch kicker in NFL history, missed a fourth-quarter field goal attempt, and Luck misfired on 5 of 6 passes after Indianapolis got the ball back following the Jaguars' final score.
"I point the finger at myself, some bad decisions," said Luck, who finished 22 of 46 for 313 yards with two scores and an interception. "I think the big finger should be pointed at me. I'm sure everybody feels like they have something to clean up."
This will be Indianapolis' first game against the Packers since a 34-14 loss at Lambeau Field in 2008.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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