Prior to last season, the pair had made the playoffs annually since joining Indianapolis, Freeney since 2002 and Bethea since 2006.
Last year not only was the first time each had missed the playoffs, the team’s 2-14 season was the first when they had been on a team that failed to win at least 10 games.
Indianapolis is on the cusp of 10 wins and a playoff berth, but it is not there yet. One more win in the last three games (two against Houston and one at Kansas City) should clinch post-season inclusion.
Even with losses in the three remaining games, it would take Pittsburgh and Cincinnati winning every game while tying each other in the remaining head-to-head battle on December 23 to keep Indianapolis from the post-season.
The veteran duo notices a better vibe this year.
“It feels good. As everybody knows, (2011) was a long year for us,” said Bethea. “For us to come in here this year and do the things that we’ve done so far…we’ve proven the critics wrong, and we still have three games left. That means a lot to the vets and even to the newcomers.”
The Colts have been adept particularly in having an 8-1 record in games decided by seven points or less, including having six wins in the fourth quarter or overtime.
“It feels great. Obviously, it’s night and day compared to last year,” said Freeney. “The feeling around the locker room is tremendous. That being said, by no means am I, or we, satisfied with where we are. I’m not saying it’s a disappointment if we don’t win it all, but that’s our mentality. We go out there thinking win it all and that’s it.”
In the 27-23 victory Sunday over Tennessee, the offense struggled in the first half before evening out. The defense yielded but 86 yards, six first downs and three points in helping decide the game after halftime. It also had two takeaways.
It was the fifth time this year the team trailed at halftime, then won. Defensively, the team has had 29 second-half possessions in those games and allowed but 25 points on two touchdowns and four field goals. Opponents have punted 16 times, missed three field goals and lost the ball once on downs on those possessions. During that time, the offense totaled 94 points.
While the Colts have converted six straight offensive red zone visits into touchdowns, they have yielded only three touchdowns by opponents in their last seven trips over the last two games.
“This is the kind of team we’ve come to be,” said Bethea. “If we need a play on defense, if we need to get a stop, somehow, some way, we’ll get that.”
As Freeney said, he is not satisfied, but he says after last year, this year holds a different meaning.
“I think every year is special,” said Freeney. “I think with everything that’s happened, it makes it a little bit more special – all the adversity we’ve faced, everybody thinking we’re the 32nd-best team in the league, everybody saying we’re going to lose every, single game, except two.
“To be able to come out here and not worry about anything else and prove everybody wrong (it’s special).”