Colts Can Win Seventh AFC South Title with Victories in Final Four Games
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell can't say he's surprised.
Caldwell, in his second season as the Colts' head coach, said it's not that he expected the Colts to be .500 with four weeks remaining in the regular season, but that the Colts are still very much in contention for the AFC South title?
That's not a shock, Caldwell said.
Not considering the nature of the 2010 NFL season.
"Looking at the way things have gone on throughout the year, you can see there are only a few teams who have really separated themselves from the pack," Caldwell said Monday, a day after the Colts' 38-35 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.
"I think consistency across the league has not been commonplace in terms of teams putting back-to-back wins together, and stringing wins together.
"It has left a lot of opunities for a number of teams, including us."
Stringing victories has become key for the Colts, Caldwell said.
The Colts, who entered the third quarter of the season 5-3 and in first place in the AFC South, exit it 6-6 – a game out of first place in the division behind Jacksonville (7-5). The Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans, 17-6, in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday.
The Colts and Jaguars, who play in Indianapolis December 19, each control their post-season destiny.
If the Colts win all of their remaining games, they will win their seventh AFC South title in the last eight years. Under that scenario, if Jacksonville wins all of its games except its game against the Colts, the teams would finish tied at 10-6.
Indianapolis would win the division based on a better record against common opponents.
"It's pretty simple," Caldwell said of the scenario facing the Colts. "What we do every time we finish a quarter is look at the quarter results, and we take a look ahead in terms of the quarter. This is the fourth quarter coming up, and obviously we know what we have to do in terms of this quarter. Really, we try to spell it out to them and show them that obviously we have to be able to string four together in order to get that done.
"I don't think there's anything more plain than that, and I do know without question that they understand it as well."
The Colts, who have lost three consecutive games and four of the last five, rallied Sunday from deficits of 17-0, 27-14 and 35-28, forcing overtime when running back Javarris James scored on a 2-yard run with 29 seconds remaining.
The Cowboys and Colts each had two possessions in overtime, and Cowboys kicker David Buehler's 38-yard field goal with 7:55 remaining in the extra period came six plays after Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee intercepted a deflected pass from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Colts committed four turnovers against Dallas and forced none, with the Cowboys intercepting four passes and returning two for touchdowns. Manning has been intercepted 11 times in the last three games, and in the last two games, four interceptions have been returned for touchdowns.
"There are so many things that go into it – it's just not one issue," Caldwell said. "It would be fairly easy if it was to get it solved. There are various factors that go into it, but the bottom line is you lessen yourself in terms of an opportunity to score, because you're giving it back to the defense.
"That's what we have to stop doing, obviously. That's one of the areas we have to make certain we get some results in. We've gone through a stretch that's a pretty incredible stretch."
The Colts have committed one turnover in their six victories.
"We've just got to get back to doing what we've been doing and get back to doing what we're usually pretty good at," Caldwell said. "When you talk about turnovers, oftentimes people are going to try to point to the fact that it's an interception and think it's all the quarterback's fault.
"That's not all that goes into it. There are a lot of things that happen. It's pass protection. It's route- running. It's communication, making sure you're on the same page. All of those things contribute to that, but that's an area we have to get straightened out.
"We get that area straightened out, and our opportunities increase."
Caldwell said the emphasis will remain on improving the offense as a whole rather than a particular position.
"Let's say, 'Our offense struggled,' because that's basically what it boils down to,' Caldwell said. "It's not a one-person deal. It's a 'we' and 'us' proposition. Those interceptions aren't all his fault, so you have to look at that and say, 'Have you ever seen the number of turnovers that we've had in a short period of time in terms of interceptions?' It has not been commonplace for us.
"The good thing is I think it's all correctable. I think we can get those things fixed, and we need to keep trying to improve."
The Colts rank 32nd in the NFL in rushing offense and after Sunday's game, Manning said, "Obviously, we have to throw to move the ball right now."
"It all ties in together," Caldwell said. "Obviously, the more you throw it, the more opportunities the defense has to get their hands on the ball. When you can run the ball more effectively, you certainly keep them off-balance. You don't become one-dimensional. They can't put their ears back on the pass rush. They can't drop and play pass in certain situations because you have a running game that's working.
"We haven't been able to get a running going – only in spurts. There have been situations where we've been able to get a little bit, but nothing like we'd like it to be."