Powers, Colts Rookies Prepare for First Postseason Appearance
INDIANAPOLIS – Jerraud Powers felt it immediately this week.
Powers, the Colts' rookie cornerback, said it wasn't so much that the team was approaching this week all that differently. The meetings, practices, routine – everything, he said, was technically and structurally as it had been throughout the season.
Still, Powers said, there was a certain something. An energy.
A knowledge that while all games are meaningful, the one this weekend is really meaningful.
So, different? Yes, Powers said, things are different around the Colts this week.
Even a rookie can see that.
"I can see the re-focus, how people are trying not to make mistakes during practice," Powers said this week as the AFC South Champion Colts (14-2) prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens (10-7) in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
"Once we play, no one's going to play trying to make a mistake, obviously, but as far as this week, everybody's on the details, trying to do everything as right as possible so when we play Saturday night we can relax and go in and play.
"I think it's back to how it was – obviously a few notches up – but it's back to how we first started the season, how everybody wanted to be on the details."
The Colts, despite a roster that includes some of the NFL's most well-known veterans, also perennially are one of the league's youngest teams, typically getting key contributions from draft selections and rookie free agents. This season is no exception.
The Colts this season enter the postseason with 15 rookies or first-year players on the roster, and have gotten as many key contributions from as many rookies as in any season in recent memory.
Not only has Powers, a third-round selection from Auburn, emerged as a starter and key component in the secondary, wide receiver Austin Collie – a fourth-round selection from Brigham Young – played in all 16 games, catching 60 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.
Rookie punter Pat McAfee, a seventh-round selection from West Virginia, has averaged 44.3 yards per punt this season, and rookie running back Donald Brown – a first-round selection from Connecticut – has rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns and caught 11 passes for 169 yards.
"All of the younger guys that have been playing quite a bit for us this year are guys that are rather settled," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "They're extremely mature for their age and experience. I don't think there is any question that it will serve them well."
The Colts have made the playoffs eight consecutive seasons, but while defensive end Dwight Freeney has played in 12 playoff games and quarterback Peyton Manning has played in 15, the rookies this week are preparing their first playoff experience.
"There's not much talk that needs to be said other than this is the playoffs," Freeney said. "Either win or go home. Everybody understands that, and I think we do a good job of preparing."
Said Powers, "In the playoffs, besides the teams that played last week, everybody's 0-0. They always say, 'Whoever's playing the best ball in the playoffs, that's who's going to win the Super Bowl.' It doesn't matter what you've done the whole season. We've been playing good ball the whole 16-week season, but if we don't play good ball in the playoffs, things probably won't happen for us.
"We have to make sure we have that edge and that chip on our shoulders and go out and play the way we know how."
Powers said his approach the last two weeks, as it has been much of the season, has been to watch the veterans and learn as much as possible.
"I've been following the veterans, as far as what they've been doing, how they approach it," Powers said. "What I've seen so far is everybody's approaching it by sticking to their routine like another week. Nobody's doing anything extra. They're just trying to get ready for the playoffs and sticking to their routine.
"You might watch a little more film, but mostly I see everybody sticking to their routine and staying focused."
When asked about pressure, Powers smiled.
"As a rookie, we feel the pressure since Week 1 in our mind," Powers said. "It's the NFL. You feel pressure week in and week out – games you're supposed to win, games you're not supposed to win. There's pressure going both ways.
"With the playoffs, yeah, it's in your mind when you're thinking, 'If we don't win this, we go home – and this great season we had won't mean anything.' Then again, you can't go into a game thinking that way. We're going to go in relaxed, have fun and play."
That, Powers said, is key. It often is said around the NFL that there is one level of speed and intensity in the preseason, and another, higher level, for the regular season. The level increases again in the postseason, and Powers said the chances to feel that for yourself after years of watching it on television is something any rookie anticipates.
"Just watching it on TV all these years, seeing the excitement and guys laying it on the line, knowing what's at stake and trying to get to that ultimate thing, winning the Super Bowl, I'm excited to be a part of it, to be part of it with this organization and so many great players around me," he said. "We can accomplish something great. I'm just happy to be a part of it and I'm pretty sure every rookie – Collie, Pat, everybody – is just happy to be a part of it and hope that we can contribute.
"This is what you think about when this is your dream. Now, that it's finally here, to get a chance to live out your dream is something special."