Sanders, Freeney Return Against Buffalo in Preseason Home Opener
INDIANAPOLIS – Bob Sanders waited for months.
And when the chance came at last, the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl safety and 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year said the chance to play for real felt as he hoped.
Good. Just, plain good.
"I got in there and made a few tackles, and ran around a little bit," said Sanders, who – along with Colts three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney – returned lineup Sunday night after missing much of preseason and training camp rehabilitating from surgery.
"Conditioning, I feel great. Physically, I feel great. Mentally, I feel great. I'm definitely ready."
Sanders, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, and Freeney – who missed the last seven games of last season with a foot injury – each returned to practice last week, and each started and played extensively in the first half of the Colts' 20-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.
"Those guys were out there making plays," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "Both were out there making plays as usual. Dwight had a couple of good rushers and we did good in the running game.
"Both of those guys built some confidence in themselves coming back, and they played effectively in their first outing."
Sanders finished with five tackles – four solos – and had a tackle for loss. He also had a tackle on the game's first play.
"It was good to be out there playing football like I'm used to," Sanders said. "Me getting back in there and getting that chemistry with the guys, I think is the most imant thing."
Freeney rushed effectively early, and twice pressured Bills starting quarterback JP Losman, and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the return of the two Pro Bowl defensive players was one of the highlights of an otherwise largely disappointing game.
"That was probably the most encouraging thing," Dungy said. "Both of those guys went in and played and came through it well and did some good things out there. Dwight had a couple of pressures on the quarterback and played his 18-to-20 plays and played well.
"I think Bob got back in the flow of things and did a good job also."
Sanders said although he felt as if he worked into the flow by the time he left the game, he also said, "Always, the first time you get back out on the field you're a little rusty."
"You want to get out there," Sanders said. "You want to make some tackles. You want to run around and see how your conditioning is. It's getting back into it. I think once we get going and the season kicks off, we'll get back in rhythm and get back to ourselves."
The first step to doing that, several Colts defensive players said, took place on Sunday night, when two key players got to do what they had waited months to do.
"It was a huge boost just to have them out there," Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson said. "It's great to see those two guys who work hard and are great players and who love football -- to have them back on the field was huge."
Said Bethea, "At the same time, we still had some other key guys out. Once we get everybody out there, I think we'll be back to Colts ball."