Colts Travel to Minnesota Sunday Seeking .500 Record
INDIANAPOLIS – The past, Bob Sanders said, is the past.
And no matter how much last Sunday hurt, and no matter how strange it seemed to see the NFL and AFC South standings this week, the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl safety said what must be done this week is what always must be done with the past – win or lose.
It must be put away. Because it's time to look to the future.
And Sanders said the time to do that isn't somewhere in the future.
The time is now.
"We have to go back to work," Sanders said this week as the Colts (0-1), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Sunday at 1 p.m.
"What do you do? We have a long season. We can win every game from here on out if we work hard to do that. We really wanted to start the season off right, but it didn't happen that way. We have to take it as that, take it as a loss, learn from it and move on.
"We have to try to go in and play a lot better than we did."
Such has been the mood around the Colts in recent days.
Yes, a 29-13 season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday night was bothersome, and yes, it was unusual feeling to be 0-1 for the first time since September 2004 and equally unusual to be in second place in the division for the first time since October of the same season.
"It's weird," Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. "The feeling of being 0-1, it's just a real sour taste. Laying down (Sunday) night, it was tough. It was something that was on my mind, but I think it's a good thing. We have high expectations for ourselves week in, week out. Maybe this will humble us and get us back to the basics and continue to work.
"It's a long season. It's one game. We've got to get it out of our heads and get ready for (the Vikings), because you don't want to be 0-2. We want to get back to 1-1, get back to .500 and continue to get better every week."
The Colts, in making the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons, typically have turned in quick starts en route to the postseason. Seven of the eight playoff appearances since the team drafted quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998 have come after the team won its opener, with four of the team's active streak of five consecutive AFC South titles coming after starts of 5-0 or better – 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 last season.
The only season in the last decade in which the Colts made the playoffs after an 0-1 start was 2004, when the team won 12 of its next 14 games en route to the AFC South title.
The last time the Colts made the playoffs after an 0-2 start was 1987, the year they won their first AFC East title in Indianapolis.
Their last 0-2 start was 1998, Manning's rookie season. They started 0-4 that season en route to a 3-13 record.
"We can turn it around," Colts middle linebacker and defensive co-captain Gary Brackett said. "We have a great group of veterans. Our thing is to get better. We don't want to be 0-2. I guarantee you we're going to go out there with a much better intensity and focus than we did last week."
One imant element this week, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said, is to get the Colts' young players used to winning again.
Of the 53 players currently on the roster, only 16 were with the team in 2004, so Sanders said the majority of the Colts' roster – like Hayden and any other players drafted since April 2005 – is unaccustomed to being under .500.
"You have some second- or third-year guys who weren't here when we lost like that," Sanders said. "Those guys are used to winning. They're used to starting the season off 5-, 6-, 7-0. It's just something you don't want to get used to, but when it happens, you have to be able to bounce back. You can't worry about that. You can't let it get you down.
"You can't let it linger throughout the season to cause you not to do the things you're used to doing. We just have to get back to playing our football."
But Dungy said just as notable is because of the team's 1-4 preseason record and opening-night loss, the Colts' rookie class – a group that makes up nearly 25 percent of the team – has yet to be around the team when it has played well.
"We haven't had that success (this season), especially for our young guys," Dungy said. "We were 1-4 in the preseason and now you don't win. You can start to question what's going on. You certainly don't want to do that.
"When you don't play up to your potential, you just have to zero in on what's going to help you do that."
Sanders said what that means against Minnesota is several things. He said it means stopping second-year running back Adrian Peterson, and it means improving from the opener, when the Colts allowed the Bears 183 yards rushing and 10-of-16 third-down conversions.
But more than particulars, Sanders said overall, "It's just the little things we have to do a little bit better.
"It's not anything huge we have to change," he said. "We just have to do the little things a little better and just correct our mistakes in the best way.
And Brackett said a team of players who have won five consecutive division titles, who have made six consecutive playoff appearances, who won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season, knows that without being told.
Those players, Brackett said, know the past is in the past.
And they know the time to look to the immediate future is now.
"A lot of guys know," Brackett said. "A lot of guys have been here for a couple of years and know how we do things, but it's a very small difference between winning and losing in the NFL.
"Even our (opening) game, it came down to about four or five plays and we win the game in that same type of fashion. Really, it's about those little things. Everything matters. Every detail matters – just paying attention to those fine things and getting those things done."