Colts Looking to Play Consistent, Passionate Game Against Ravens
INDIANAPOLIS – As Raheem Brock sees it, what's needed is simple.
Brock, the Colts' seven-year veteran defensive end, said the Colts have shown through four games this season they are capable of playing as well as they aspire to play. They also have, Brock said, shown that when they play well – when they play with passion and energy and consistency – they can win.
They did that – long enough to win, anyway – in Week 2.
And they did it again in Week 5.
What they haven't done is play as well as necessary – or as well as they are capable – for an entire, 60-minute game, which is why when Brock was asked what he wanted to see from the Colts Sunday, his answer was simple, and echoed the thoughts of Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Passion. Enthusiasm. Energy.
And not just in spurts, Brock said.
All game long.
"We just have to get consistent," Brock said this week as the Colts (2-2) prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens (2-2) in an AFC game at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.
"That's our problem right now. We're inconsistent. We know we can play Colts football. We just want to get everybody on the same page and have that confidence and swagger and play like that for 60 minutes."
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, split their first four games of the season in what often was weird, wild fashion.
They have won two games on the road, and lost two at home.
They have squandered a lead in each loss, and rallied in dramatic fashion for each win.
They have, Dungy said, played very, very well at times in nearly every game, and at times in each game, they have played sdically enough to lose.
It is, Dungy said, a perplexing formula. And at times this season – particularly in come-from-behind victories at Minnesota in Week 2 and at Houston this past Sunday – Dungy said it has been a thrilling formula.
What it likely isn't, Dungy said, is a formula for long-term success.
Not in the NFL.
"We have talent, but right now, we're at .500 because we aren't playing consistent football," Dungy said. "You just don't have that many 15-, 17-point comebacks in the NFL. We've had two in three weeks and we have another game where we score to take the lead and don't hold the team. It's been kind of a roller-coaster, but it probably tells us we haven't been consistent enough."
The Colts in Week 2 rallied from a 15-0 third-quarter deficit to beat Minnesota on a late field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri, 18-15. The following week, they held a 21-20 lead before Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee's 51-yard field goal with :04 remaining.
This past week, the Colts took a 10-0 lead on the Houston Texans before falling behind 27-10 in the fourth quarter. They then scored 21 points in a 2:10 span to win, 31-27, becoming the first team in NFL history to win in regulation after trailing by 17 or more points with less than five minutes remaining.
The victories were critical, Dungy said, but he said the late-game drama has been caused by inconsistency, something he said this week was troubling.
"That's not what we're looking for," Dungy said. "That's not the way we practice. That's not the way we've done things for a number of years. For some reason, we seem to have it this year. We have to get through that and fight through that and build on it. You're not going to be able to come from 15 points down week after week after week. It just doesn't work that way in the NFL. We have to work to eliminate that.
"A lot of it is just knowing what we're doing and not having critical errors at the wrong time."
If the Colts are to approach their success of recent seasons, they'll to do it unfamiliar fashion.
The Colts, a playoff team the past six seasons, for the past five seasons have parlayed some of the NFL's fastest starts into postseason appearances. In four of the past five seasons, the Colts won their first five games, starting 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 last seasons.
They won the AFC South title each season without ever being out of first place.
In 2004, the only time before this season the Colts lost their season-opener under Dungy, Indianapolis started 4-1, and lost two consecutive games, but never slipped more than a half-game out of first place. They moved into a first-place tie with Jacksonville early in November and pulled away to win the division by three games.
The Colts enter Sunday's game as one of four AFC teams at 2-2, with five teams – Tennessee (5-0), Buffalo (4-1), Pittsburgh (4-1), Denver (4-1) and New England (3-1) – above .500. The Colts are two-and-half games behind the Titans (5-0), who are idle this week, in the South. They lead Jacksonville, 23-21 winners at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 3, by a half game.
It's a new situation for the Colts.
But not, Dungy said, an insurmountable one.
"We're saying, 'Hey, we've got to get on a streak. We have to put some good games together,' " Dungy said. "Right now, we've been win one, lose one and we haven't really played with that consistency you need. That can come any time. You have to hang in there and win enough of these games when you aren't playing your best so that when it does come, you're in position to take advantage of it."
The Colts, while known for extended winning streaks under Dungy, also have experience in recent seasons overcoming difficult stretches. The Colts since 2003 have had winning streaks of 13 games, nine games (2006), eight games (2004), seven games (2007), six games (2007) and five games (2003), but they also have recovered from stretches of losses.
In 2003, they lost two four of games late in the season before qualifying for the AFC Championship Game. In 2004, they lost back-to-back games in October. In 2006, they lost three of four games – all on the road and all in the AFC South – in December before winning Super Bowl XLI, and last season, the Colts lost back-to-back games in November to New England and San Diego before winning six consecutive games en route to a fifth consecutive AFC South title.
"Going into the playoffs our Super Bowl year you would have said the same thing: 'What's the chance of stringing together four really good games?''' Dungy said. "We hadn't done it in a month, but all of a sudden we did because we were getting better and improving. When we got hot, it looked like it was easy, but it was just a matter of staying the course."
"It does happen. Look at the (Super Bowl champion New York) Giants last year and (AFC Finalist) San Diego last year – teams that ended up having very good records and ended up in the playoffs. We started that way a lot in Tampa (from 1996-2001), where you're just not quite exactly clicking and you get better and you push through it.
"We haven't been through it in a while, but most teams do."
Regaining consistency Sunday won't be an easy task, Dungy said. And he said it's the opponent that makes it that way.
The Colts have won five consecutive meetings against the Ravens, but except for a 44-20 victory in Baltimore last season, games between the teams typically have been lower-scoring matchups. The Colts beat Baltimore, 15-6, in the playoffs en route to their Super Bowl title, a game in which kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked five field goals.
"This is going to be a hard week to get (consistency) that because Baltimore, especially on defense, they play not to allow that," Dungy said. "You're going to have to make some big plays and it's going to be sluggish and you're going to have some negative plays. You just have to keep fighting and hang in there and you'll get a chance to hit some.
"But it won't be that consistent, machine-like offense. They just don't allow you to play that way."
This year, the Ravens have a new coach, with John Harbaugh having replaced longtime head coach Brian Billick, and a new quarterback, with Joe Flacco – the team's first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft – emerging as the starter in training camp.
The Ravens won their first two games, and played unbeaten Tennessee and 4-1 Pittsburgh tough before losing the last two weeks. The Baltimore defense, one of the NFL's best for much of the past decade, has held opponents to an average of 14.8 points per game, and ranks first in all three major statistical categories – total yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed. The Ravens also feature one of the NFL's best rushing offenses, with fullback/running back Le'Ron McClain and running back Willis McGahee combining for more than 400 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
Baltimore is ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing.
"They're playing pretty well," Dungy said. "They're playing kind of like they played in 2006. They're very, very tough on defense. They make you go after big plays. They're pounding the ball and running it and throwing safe passes. (Ravens rookie quarterback) Joe Flacco has had some problems trying to do too much and in these last two games they've lost, he has turned the ball over a bit, but in the first two games, he controlled things, ran the offense and they played as I'm sure they're designed to play. But they're going to be tough."