Sunday's Game Against Houston As Imant as Most Others, Clark Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Dallas Clark doesn't see this Sunday much differently than others.
Clark, the Colts' six-year veteran tight end, said this week the Colts – after losses in two of their first three regular-season games – very much want to win on Sunday, and said that they very much need to win.
They are under .500 after three games for the first time in a decade.
They are two and a half games behind in the AFC South for the first time ever.
They are in third place in the division for the first time, too.
So, yes, Clark said, the Colts need to win and want to win Sunday, but he also said the reality is that doesn't make Sunday a lot different than most others.
"They're all must wins," Clark said as the Colts (1-2), the five-time defending AFC South Champions, prepared to play the Houston Texans (0-3) in a division game at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"That's our goal, to win every one, so it's definitely not anything different. We just have to go out there, play better and execute."
The Colts, a playoff team the past six seasons and the AFC South champions the past five seasons, were off last week, and exiting the bye they are two and a half games behind the unbeaten Tennessee Titans, who visit Baltimore (2-1) Sunday.
The Colts, who had been unbeaten at the bye each of the past three seasons, spent two practices during the off-week in a mode that Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said was similar to training camp, focusing on basics and fundamentals.
They returned to normal regular-season mode this week, game-planning for Houston, and Dungy said this week the approach is not that of a team facing a desperate situation, but that of a team focused on improving steadily.
"I'd rather have us approach it as getting ourselves back to what we know we can do," Dungy said. "Yes, you have to do that sooner rather than later. You don't want to wait until Week 10 when it really is too late, but it's not, 'Hey, we have to win this game for the sake of winning,' but the quicker we get ourselves playing the way we can play then the better chance you have of getting a streak going. That's what we need right now. We'd like to get something to build on. . . .
"That's more what we need to worry about – can we put together a four-game stretch where we're playing really good ball every week? If we do, we're going to be fine."
The Colts in past seasons were one of the NFL's quickest-starting teams, and in four of their five AFC South-championship seasons – 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 – they never trailed in the division. Indianapolis started the 2003 season 5-0, and also had long unbeaten stretches at the start of each of the past three seasons – 2005 (13-0), 2006 (9-0) and 2007 (7-0).
In 2004, the Colts lost their opener to New England, then slipped to 4-3 with back-to-back losses to Jacksonville and Kansas City. That left them a half game behind Jacksonville before the Colts won eight consecutive games to win the division by three games with a 12-4 record.
Of the 39 veterans on the Colts' roster, 19 – including 11 starters – never had trailed in a division race before this season.
"We haven't been in this situation before, but we'll be fine," Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, a 2005 first-round draft selection, said. "We just have to play more consistent and we'll be fine. We'll get back to where we need to be.
"I don't think we need to be desperate. We need to do our job. It's as simple as that. It's not desperation, but we need to win. We need to play good football.
"That's what we're looking forward to trying to do this week."
The Texans, after finishing 8-8 last season – their first .500 season in franchise history – face a similar situation to that of the Colts. They entered the season with many observers predicting they would contend for a playoff position, but because of Hurricane Ike, they were forced to reschedule a Week 2 home game against Baltimore and have played their first three games on the road.
Beginning with the Colts game, they will play four consecutive home games against Indianapolis, Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati. The Colts-Texans game will be played October 5, making it the latest home opener for an NFL team since the Detroit Lions held their home opener on October 8, 2001 because of the events of September 11, 2001.
The Texans will become the first NFL team to play four consecutive home games since the 1990 Houston Oilers.
"Everything sort of falls in line for them – coming home and having the capability of being a contender," Colts President Bill Polian said.
"At the start of the game, they're going to be jacked up, excited – as well they should be," Clark said. "It's going to be a great environment, but it's our goal as a team to not give them anything to really cheer about. We have to go out there and execute.
"It's going to be a loud environment, but we've played in a lot of loud environments, and we've been able to handle it. We have to hopefully handle it this week."
And while the Texans' record means they need a victory to avert their second 0-4 start in franchise history, Colts defensive end Josh Thomas said the Colts are in no situation to be concerned about matters such as records.
"Right now, we're just trying to win," Thomas said. "We're not going to take any team –regardless of the record – lightly. This next game, no matter who it's going to be, is the most important game because of the situation we're in."
Said Clark, "It's a different situation we're in. I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge. You don't want to put yourself in a hole like we have, but I think a lot of our character will rise to the top and we have some great guys and some great competitors on this team. I don't think we're going to be satisfied with where we are or how we're playing.
"It's just going to get better. We have to take care of the little things that are hindering us from being successful and having successful plays. The more we do that, hopefully better things will happen."