Sanders Return Imant But Not a Cure-All, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Bob Sanders is back.
And what the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl safety – the Associated Press' 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year – said that means is that he will play Sunday night when the Colts play host to the New England Patriots, and when he does, he hopes to provide help. And energy.
Sanders, though, said as important is what it doesn't mean – that because of his return, all of the team's issues are resolved.
Because he said despite what many observers may believe, he's not the Colts' entire defense, or even the overriding key to its success or struggles.
Far from it, he said. Very far.
"I definitely don't want any of the credit," Sanders said Thursday as the Colts (3-4) prepared to play the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (5-2) in Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 8:15 p.m.
There are so many guys out there who play well and play well consistently, week in and week out."
Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, has missed the last five games since sustaining a high-ankle sprain in a Week 2 victory over Minnesota. While out, he also underwent knee surgery, but returned to practice this week and is expected to play Sunday, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said.
Sanders said the past month was frustrating, not only because the Colts have lost two consecutive games, but because of the nature of high-ankle sprains.
"It's one of those things where after the third week you feel pretty good," Sanders said. "After three weeks I really felt good. You really have to be cautious about when you get back out there, when you start practicing and playing again. You don't want to have reoccurrences.
"A high-ankle sprain is tough, because after the third and fourth week, you feel great, but you get out there and start cutting and moving around too fast, you'll be out another two or three weeks. We wanted to keep from going through that."
Dungy, too, said while Sanders' return it important it's not a cure-all.
"We have three guys (Sanders, running back Joseph Addai and cornerback Kelvin Hayden) coming back (from injuries) and they'll help us, but they won't magically make everything fine," Dungy said. "We have to get some of the issues squared away or it won't matter. But they'll definitely help and hopefully it helps people relax and just do their job and play with energy."
Sanders in recent seasons has been an important element of the Colts' defense, and statistically, the unit often has fared better when he has played than when he has not.
In 2005, when Sanders started 14 games, the Colts finished 16th in the NFL against the run and second in the NFL in scoring defense. A year later, he missed 12 regular-season games and the Colts finished last in the NFL rushing defense and 23rd in scoring defense.
That postseason, he returned and the Colts improved dramatically defensively, winning the Super Bowl.
A season ago, Sanders started 15 games for a defense that finished 15th in rushing defense and first in scoring defense and this season – with Sanders out five of seven games – they are tied for 26th against the run, although they have averaged allowing less than 100 yards the last three games.
So far this season, the Colts rank 17th in scoring defense, but Sanders said the relationship to the Colts' defensive success – particularly during the Super Bowl season – and his presence in the lineup is exaggerated.
"It's not all on me," Sanders said. "Everyone wants to put it on me, and make like I was the savior of that (2006) season, but you know what? Everyone did their job. If you really go back and look at the film, everyone did their job. If one guy in our defense doesn't do his job, it's a big play for the other team. There are 11 jobs that need to be done out there. I can only take care of one.
"I'm just a small piece of what we had that year. If I can just bring that piece back, it will be good for our team, and hopefully guys rally and we get together and get this thing going."
Sanders upon returning has at times provided the Colts a lift. And not just in the 2006 postseason. In early November of that year, against New England in a Monday Night game, he returned after a five-game absence and made a team-high 10 tackles with a critical interception and a pass defensed in a 27-20 victory.
"I think just being out for a long time, you're really anxious and really excited," Sanders said. "A lot of it is just your adrenaline. You get pumping and you get excited. You want to make plays and it's just exciting being back out there. It's easy once you get out there and you start feeling a little more comfortable being out on the field that you just be your normal self and make a lot of plays.
"Whatever it takes. I would love to come back and be able to help us continue to move forward, continue to get better and progress. If I can come back and give us a rush and make guys really want to push forward, then I love it."
Sanders said more important than his return is the Colts' younger players understanding that just because they are under .500 after seven games for the first time in a decade, the season is not lost.
"I think a lot of guys really understand where we are, and that we can play better," Sanders said. "We have the team. We have the ability to get better even though we've had injuries. . . . It's starting with one win. We just want to get this win, and take it a game at a time, a week at a time, to get better every day.
"A lot of the young guys, guys who have been here three years, really haven't been here when we've lost games. Even myself, I'm so used to winning that it's kind of tough, but the veteran guys who have been here – (wide receiver) Reggie (Wayne), (center Jeff) Saturday, (wide receiver) Marvin (Harrison); those guys who have lost games in the past – told us, 'We have to keep pushing.'
"They've been here before, and it's something you can definitely get over if everyone believes and trusts in what we have going on here that we can get it done."