After Playing Five of First Eight Games on Road, Colts Return to Lucas Oil Stadium
INDIANAPOLIS – All of the Colts' season goals are still very much attainable.
Gary Brackett, the Colts' defensive captain and middle linebacker, said this week that theme – emphasized around the team this week – remains very much true. The Colts, despite a 5-3 record they wanted and expected to be better at the season's midway point, remain very much in contention.
But while Brackett said the Colts are still very much in the race for the AFC South and a post-season berth, he said it's also true that the events of the first half of the season make something true entering the second half.
That truism? The Colts need to play consistently and they need to win.
And they particularly need to win at home.
"We're in a tough time right now, obviously, being 5-3," Brackett said as the Colts prepared to play host to the Cincinnati Bengals (2-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We still control our own destiny, and that's a good thing, but in order to do that, we definitely have to win these games at home."
The Colts reached the midway point of the season in what for them is an unusual situation:
They're not undefeated, and they're not alone in first place.
The Colts in seven seasons from 2003-09 won six AFC South titles, started 5-0 or better five of those seasons – 2003, 2005-07 and 2009. In three of those seasons – 2005 (13-0), 2006 (9-0) and last season (14-0) – the Colts began at least 8-0, and in 2007, they started the season 7-0.
The Colts have won 12 or more games an NFL-record seven consecutive seasons, but just as imant to that record-setting run of success as fast starts has been an ability to win at home.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, while noting the Colts also in recent seasons have been one of the NFL's best road teams, said while playing at home guarantees nothing, the Colts do take pride in playing well at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"You can also look at our road record and see that when we're humming we've been pretty good on the road, too," Caldwell said. "This year, we've kind of been up-and-down a little bit, but there have been times when we've been pretty good on the road, meaning that home teams don't always have an advantage.
"You still have to play and play well, no matter where you are. I think that's the thing, we have to play well, and we have to make certain that we continue to do that. This week is no different. If you don't play well, the parity and the competition is so fierce that home field is not that much of an advantage if you're not lined up where you're supposed to and playing as well as you can.
"But I can tell you this, our fans do help us, there is no question about that, just in terms of noise and enthusiasm and all of those things that are generated in that setting. Don't think that that is not a factor. That part goes without saying. The guys love to play and love to play in that environment, and we've got a great environment to play in."
The Colts since they began their run of division titles in 2003 have had a record of 49-10 at home, and since 2003, they haven't had a home record worse than 6-2. In 2006, the year the Colts won the Super Bowl, they won all eight regular-season home games at the RCA Dome, then two more games in the post-season.
Since moving to Lucas Oil Stadium, the advantage has been more pronounced.
The Colts lost their first two games at Lucas Oil Stadium – to Chicago and Jacksonville – in early 2008, but since then, they have won 16 of 17 regular-season home games, and they won two post-season games en route to the AFC Championship last season.
The Colts' lone regular-season loss in the new stadium during that span was a loss to the New York Jets last December after they clinched home-field advantage throughout the post-season, but entering Sunday's game, players this week said the focus was more on continuing to win this season than streaks of past seasons.
"It's important because of the fact that we are 5-3," Freeney said. "We're not used to being 5-3, so we have to continue to win, but I don't think anything has changed as far as the mentality is concerned. We take every game seriously no matter what our record is.
"Were going to go out there and play hard and hope everything works out this week better than last week."
The Colts, while winning their three home games this season over the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans – two teams that currently lead their division and a team that led the AFC South through much of the first half of the season – have lost three of five road games.
The last road loss came last week at Philadelphia, 26-24, in a game in which the Colts played without running back Joseph Addai, running back Mike Hart, linebacker Clint Session, cornerback Jerraud Powers, among other key players. They also lost wide receiver Austin Collie to a second-quarter concussion.
"It is important that we bounce back with hopefully a better performance," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "We've got a home game, and you always want to play well at home. I think we're still just looking for a little more consistency.
Said Freeney, "We just have to worry about what we need to worry about, which is playing more consistent. I think we'll do a good job, and I think we have a good mentality around here: 'Next Guy Up,' so we're going to continue to keep working on that."
And while Brackett and many Colts players said this week tied for first with three losses is relatively unusual, Caldwell said he reminded the players that it is far from an unusual in the NFL – and that whatever the record, the goals the team set before the season are very much attainable.
"We've been fortunate, being successful for the last several years," Brackett said. "We haven't had to be in this position where you have to dig down for must-win games, so to speak. For the rest of the NFL, this is life: 5-3 and every week is a dogfight, and you need every game in order to stay in the hunt.
"Welcome to the NFL, and for us, we like the challenge. We like our challenges down the stretch, and we just have to continue to improve and continued to get better. That's all you can do."