Stunning is the best word to describe the 2012 season of the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite it being a rebuilding year with plenty of odds stacked against them, the Colts still managed to grab a wild-card spot in the playoffs with a 10-5 record.
They did this with the help of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, interim head coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the inspiration and preparation of head coach Chuck Pagano and the steady leadership of wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
But they weren't the only parties responsible for Indianapolis' rise back to the NFL's elite. There were other players and other members of the organization that helped put the Colts back in a position for a miraculous season-to-season turnaround rarely seen even in the parity-driven NFL.
Here's a look at some of the unsung heroes of this ride.
Where would the Colts be had it not been for Jim Irsay?
Earlier this year, he had some of the most difficult decisions to make. He let go of his team's franchise quarterback, but before that also let go of Bill Polian, the architect of the Colts' rise in the early-2000's.
Both decisions created their own levels of scrutiny and controversy, and while many did see Polian's departure as inevitable (Polian had been there a while and hadn't really restocked the talent on the team in a long time), seeing the Colts let go of Manning was itself an emotional and debatable move.
It took guts for Irsay to pull it off and decide to head into the future with Luck and a new regime. Would Indianapolis had done as well had Peyton come back? Would it have been better?
Because of the season Indianapolis had in 2012, those questions are not being asked by many Colts fans, who are too excited about the future in front of this franchise. Irsay deserves credit for sticking to his guns and moving forward.
Indiana-native and former Philadelphia Eagles director of player personnel Ryan Grigson is the odds on favorite to win the NFL Executive of The Year.
It wasn't so much the Luck draft pick, which was somewhat of a no-brainer, it was the other moves pulled off by Grigson.
The first was hiring head coach Chuck Pagano. Then once free agency started, Grigson was able to convince Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis to stay in Indianapolis through the rebuilding period.
Grigson would go on to put together a great draft for Indianapolis outside of Luck, bringing in Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard and T.Y. Hilton. Those three are expected to be Luck's weapons of the future, and despite a rocky rookie season from the three, each has shown signs of potential.
Grigson is well on his way to being one of the top general managers in the NFL, but it seems like this season his great work has been lost in the shuffle.
Vick Ballard's numbers in 2012 aren't exactly those of a difference maker.
Ballard has run for 736 yards on 184 attempts, averaging exactly four yards per carry while scoring only one touchdown.
Those aren't "wow!" numbers, but he does keep defenses honest, which allows Andrew Luck the time in the pocket to make the right throws.
Ballard doesn't nearly get the attention he deserves on this team, but without him the Colts' offense would be one-dimensional.
Someone has to take advantage of those Reggie Wayne double-teams that teams throw at the Colts.
Enter Donnie Avery, who has taken advantage of them to the tune of 60 receptions for 781 yards and three touchdowns.
Avery is Indianapolis' second best receiver, but he is someone that secondaries have to account for as opposed to focusing most of their energy on Wayne. While he has lacked consistency throughout the season, Avery has come up when the Colts have needed him to the most.
Numbers don't tell the right story with this defense. Just looking at the stats, they're ranked 20th in yards allowed per game and 24th in points allowed per game.
Are they elite? Not one bit. But they do what any defense is supposed to do.
They give their offense a chance to win.
Keep in mind that the numbers are skewed a bit against the Colts' defense as four of Indianapolis' five losses have been blowouts. But in their 10 wins, they've kept the game in reach and allowed for Luck to create his late-game comeback miracles.
This isn't a bad defense, just one that has had some unfortunate games throughout the year. But judging them as a whole, they're wholly underrated, and one of the unsung heroes of the Colts' 2012 season.