Victory over Tennessee Necessary to Stay in Division Race, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – The scenario couldn't be clearer.
Tony Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said the situation entering a Monday Night Football matchup with the unbeaten Tennessee Titans is, in fact, so clear, there's no reason to ignore it publicly.
The Colts since the 2002 inception of the AFC South have been the division's dominant team, winning the last five division titles and doing so four of those five seasons – 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 – in wire-to-wire fashion. Until this season, they never had trailed the division by more than a game.
The season, the Colts are 3-3. The Titans are 6-0.
Thus, Dungy said, the scenario:
Win Monday and stay within range of the division lead . . .
If not, the streak likely will end.
"I think we'll know if we don't win this game, we really won't have a chance to win the division," Dungy said early this week as the Colts – a playoff team the past six seasons – began preparations to play the Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Monday at 8:30 p.m.
A Colts victory would pull them to within two games of first place with Tennessee still needing to come to Indianapolis for the season finale.
A Titans victory?
That would move Tennessee four games ahead of Indianapolis with nine remaining, and would leave Tennessee at 4-0 in the division, with the Colts at 1-2.
"I don't think, unless the stock market crashes and they cancel the season – that would be about be the only way we could win it if we don't win this game," Dungy said.
He added, "We should have ourselves ready to play our best game of the year. That's for sure."
The Colts, who had won two consecutive games following a Week 4 bye week, lost to the Green Bay Packers Sunday, 34-14, a loss that left them .500 in October for the first time since 2002, Dungy's first season.
The Titans, meanwhile, dominated the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, 34-10, moving to 6-0 for the first time in franchise history, and moving the franchise into the national spotlight.
On Wednesday, normally the first day of practice, the Colts were off because the Titans-Colts game will be played Monday. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, a 14-year NFL veteran who replaced 2006 No. 3 overall selection Vince Young as the team's starter in Week 2, participated on a conference call with national NFL media, some of which focused on the high-profile nature of the team – and on Monday's matchup.
"They're going to come in here fired up and ready to play," Collins said. "I don't think there's any question about that. They have had an up-and-down season, but they understand it's a division game and they're going come in here fired up with the lights on for Monday Night. . . .
"We're just trying to get another win. That's the approach we're taking. . . . There's still a lot of football left to be played. We've gotten off to a good start and that's great, but to be able to do it throughout a whole season is the key.
"Our focus right now is on a division opponent coming in here and we have to be ready to play."
Early in the week, Collins' teammates discussed the matchup with the Colts as an opunity to gain notoriety from fans and the rest of the NFL.
"A lot of people still don't respect us, and feel like we haven't played top-notch talent in the league yet," Titans safety Chris Hope told the Associated Press. "They're still not sure how good we are, and what better way to show them than on Monday Night Football against Peyton Manning and the Colts, one of the premier teams in the league?"
Dungy said the Titans likely are talking about something else amongst themselves – the chance to all-but eliminate a rival from the division race. It's a situation the Colts faced often the past five seasons.
"It's pretty obvious," Dungy said. "We've been in that situation before and we've told our team that, 'Hey, we're three games up on these guys. If we beat them, they're going to have to win four more games than us in the second half of the year. Realistically, we can put the nail in their coffin right now.'
"I'm sure that's what they (the Titans) are saying and that's the way it is."
The Colts, Dungy said, are less concerned about the specific matchup against the Titans and far more concerned about figuring a way to play well in a season that has been defined by inconsistency.
"For us, the more important goal is going out and playing well," Dungy said. "It's just doing what we should do, applying our techniques. I think we're playing plenty hard. We're trying to make things happen, but we're not playing sound and we're not playing smart. If we get that fixed, we can be back to where we want to be. . . .
"We've had good segments of games, but never really a good game all the way through. We haven't built and played a little bit better every week. We have been way more up and down than we ever have been. . . .
"I really don't know why. But that has been our MO all year."
Said Colts President Bill Polian, "What we are right now is not a very good football team, so we have a ways to go. Can we improve it? Yes. Yes, we can, in a lot of different ways, but it needs to improve. . . . We have to get a lot better. That's the bad news. The good news is we have 10 games to get better, so we have to get to work and do what we have to do in order to do that. . . . It's not over by a long shot.
"We have a ways to go and we can improve. So, we have to work to do that."
The Colts; position this week is strikingly unfamiliar. Since the 2002 inception of the South, the Colts never have been more than a game out of first place until this season, and until this season, Indianapolis never had played a division game in which it did not either lead or share the division lead entering the game or afterward.
Of 40 veterans on the Colts' roster, 34 have been with the Colts their entire careers, and 25 of those players never have been on a team that didn't win the division.
"That's what it is," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "It's a huge game. The first goal is to make it to the playoffs. If you win the division, you make it to the playoffs. Tennessee is obviously hot right now, but they're standing in the way of us winning our division, so that's a game where we definitely want to go out and get a victory."
Said cornerback Marlin Jackson, "That's a given. We have to win this game. It's really just plain and simple. We can't stand to lose any game, but we definitely can't lose a division game. We just have to win. That's the only thing we can think about is winning the game. It's definitely different, but we have to respond.
"There's no choice but to respond. We have to play well and win."
Also on Wednesday, the Colts released their first injury report of the week. The Colts did not practice, but the team listed running back Joseph Addai (hamstring) as likely participating on a limited basis, with wide receiver Roy Hall (knee), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (knee), defensive end Robert Mathis (not injury-related/rested) and safety Bob Sanders (knee) as likely not participating had the Colts practiced.