BACK TO NORMAL

The Colts, after a difficult early season, have started to get many of their starters back in the lineup. Colts center Jeff Saturday said that has meant a sense of normalcy around the franchise - with one notable exception.

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Bye Week Helped Colts Return to More Normal Situation, Saturday Says
INDIANAPOLIS – In one sense, Jeff Saturday said things are fairly normal again.

He's back starting at center for the Colts, and has been for two weeks. Peyton Manning is back starting at quarterback, and has been for more than a month. Elsewhere around the Colts' roster, players are returning to the lineup, and Head Coach Tony Dungy said the team has had a series of productive practices in the last two weeks.

Relatively normal, Saturday said . . .

Except for one imant factor.

"It's getting there, but not winning is abnormal," Saturday said this week 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 hard to get used to. I don't think you ever get accustomed to it. I made the comment yesterday (Wednesday), 'I don't remember the last time I had lost two games in September.'''

That's because in the NFL, it's something Saturday – a 10-year NFL veteran – never has experienced. The Colts, who went unbeaten through September in four of the last five seasons, hadn't lost twice in the month since 1998.

The last time Saturday lost two games in September?

It was 1995, when he was a sophomore at the University of North Carolina.

"Across the board, I don't think anybody could sit here and say we're playing the way we want to play," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said this week. "Obviously, the record shows for that. I don't think we're happy with how we're playing. I don't think anybody's happy with it."

But Saturday, the Colts' third-longest tenured player behind quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, said there have been signs of normalcy in recent weeks, particularly regarding the team's lineup.

Manning, who hadn't missed a practice or a game since his rookie training camp before missing all five Colts preseason games, started in each of the first three regular-season games. Saturday, who had missed just two starts since 2000 before sustaining a preseason knee injury, returned against Jacksonville two weeks ago.

His return helped the Colts' running game, said running back Joseph Addai, who this week called Saturday "the foundation of the offense." Colts President Bill Polian also said this week Saturday's presence is critical because of his ability to make calls at the line of scrimmage, which enables the Colts to run their up-tempo offense.

Elsewhere, Dungy said the Colts have become healthier, too. Guard Mike Pollak, out since the preseason with a knee injury, returned to practice this week, as did rookie tight end Jacob Tamme, offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and defensive tackle Dan Muir.

"The consistency of playing together is going to be the most important thing," Saturday said. "Guys have to get back out together, learn and relearn the trade with whoever you're playing next to. I think that will take some time, but it shouldn't be something you should notice as an average fan watching. That should be the small details we can see in film.

"We've had a lot of guys playing different positions, a lot of different guys having to step up and play a little bit banged up and guys just working through it. It's been one of those years. You're three weeks in and it feels like Week 12 with all of the injuries we've faced. We know what we have to do. Guys have to get out there, get back on the field and get better and lead our team to some wins."

The idea during the team's bye week last week was to refocus on fundamentals, something Dungy said the team accomplished during what he said were two practices that had the feel of training camp because of the emphasis on basics and lack of focus on an opponent.

If last week were training camp, Dungy said the hope is that this week will have more of a regular-season feel.

"That'd be a good way to put it," Dungy said. "We've had a little training camp time and now we have to put it all together and turn that into a performance on Sunday.

"We had people in and out of the lineup – different things going on and new guys playing, so to have four or five practices where we are zeroed in with the group that's going to be playing – hopefully we can get that done."

Saturday, like many of his Colts teammates, discounted the notion that Sunday's game was a "must-win" situation" – anymore so than any other game, anyway.

"As far as the emergency of having to get a win, I think you have to get a win every week," Saturday said. "It doesn't make any difference whether it's big outside of this room or not, every week that we play it's big. . . . We have to get a win. However that has to come about, that's our main goal and objective."

And Saturday said the way to do that is to do what the Colts have done in the last two weeks, returning to the basics and fundamentals that have allowed them to be the only team to make the playoffs each of the last five seasons.

"I think the way you get a win is to back to our style of football," Saturday said. "We've made a lot of mistakes over these first three weeks. Even when we won, we've made a lot of mistakes that have cost us football games. We need to get back to controlling the ball, not turning it over, getting turnovers on defense, possessing the ball, scoring touchdown in the red zone, stopping teams from scoring, beating them in special teams – those are things that are going to help us get to our goal. . . .

"You just look back and winning is something that's contagious. You have to get your wins going and that's what we're trying to get to this weekend."

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