CLOSING IN

The Colts can clinch the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs with a victory over Jacksonville Thursday.

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Victory over Jacksonville Thursday Would Clinch No. 5 Playoff Seed
INDIANAPOLIS – They're not there yet.

And although the Colts are very close – and although they can clinch everything that remains to be clinched in three days – Head Coach Tony Dungy said that was the message with which he left players and coaches players late Sunday afternoon.

Yes, the work of the last two months has been productive.

Yes, they are a step from the goal they set in late October.

But the final step is the most imant.

"We've kind of put ourselves on the doorstep," Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said Monday, a day after the Colts beat the Detroit Lions, 31-21, at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

"We're one win away from being in the playoffs, so that's our concentration and our focus – to get a win, and get ourselves in the playoffs."

Indianapolis (10-4) a playoff team each of the last six seasons, can clinch not only a postseason appearance, but the No. 5 seed in the AFC with a victory at Jacksonville (5-9) Thursday at 8:15 p.m.

The Jaguars beat the Colts, 23-21, in Indianapolis in Week 3, but lost four consecutive games before beating the Green Bay Packers, 20-16, in Jacksonville Sunday. The Jaguars are out of postseason contention.

"I'm sure they would like to knock us out," Dungy said Monday at his weekly next-day press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"We haven't really been in that situation, but when you are and you can't get in, that's the motivation, especially if it's a division rival. I'm sure they'd like to keep us out of the playoffs, so I'm sure we'll get their best."

The Colts, after slipping to 3-4 with two late-October road losses, have won seven consecutive games, a streak that left them just short of a sixth consecutive AFC South title, but one that moved them to the top of the AFC Wild Card chase.

The seven-game winning streak means the Colts have won seven or more consecutive games in each of the last seven seasons, an NFL record.

"At 3-4, we knew what the problems were," Dungy said. "A lot of it was ourselves and our execution. That's what we focused on, more so than pointing the finger at someone or figuring out who was to blame. A lot of that gets back to the players really listening to the coaches."

The Colts also can make the playoffs if two of the following teams – New England, Baltimore, the New York Jets or Miami – lose one of their next two games. They also can clinch a playoff spot with a victory in the season finale at home against Tennessee (12-2).

"That was the last thing we said Sunday night before we left the locker room," Dungy said. "We said, 'Our magic number is one and we can't count on anybody else to lose.'

"We have to get a win. That's the way to get yourselves in. That's the way we have to look at it, is it's a must-win game, because a win puts you in the playoffs. We're not in yet."

The four division winners from each conference make the playoffs as the Nos. 1-4 seeds, with the next two teams from each conference with the best records making it as wild cards and entering as the Nos. 5-6 seeds.

The Tennessee Titans (12-2) have clinched the South because they have secured a better record than the Colts in games the teams played against common opponents, which would be the third tiebreaker scenario if the teams finished tied at 12-4.

Because they cannot win the division, the Colts cannot receive a first-round postseason bye. The last three Super Bowl champions – the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, the Colts in 2006 and the New York Giants last season – did not have a first-round bye.

The Steelers and Giants each made the playoffs as Wild Card entrants.

The Colts on Sunday moved a game closer to the playoffs in a game in which they never trailed, but one in which they needed to score the game's final 10 points to pull away from a 21-21 fourth-quarter tie against the Lions (0-14).

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning completed 28 of 37 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown, and running backs Dominic Rhodes and Chad Simpson combined to run for 104 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. Offensively, the Colts scored on five of eight possessions before an end-of-game kneel by quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Colts' offense did not commit a turnover, but two fumbled punts led to six points for the Lions.

"Sunday was tough and hard-fought," Dungy said. "Detroit battled back several times and we kind of had some chances to maybe give ourselves some room. Obviously, the turnovers on the punts hurt us – and a couple of big plays they got offensively.

"All in all, we're happy to win the ballgame. We need to be a little sharper and we're going to need to be much sharper going down to Jacksonville."

And entering that game, Dungy said the message and motivation is clear, and that although the Colts are a step away from a goal toward which they have worked for seven games, that last step is the most critical.

"That's going to be our focus to the players," Dungy said. "If we win this game, that will put us at the five spot. We can't get to four and we couldn't drop to six. If that happens, we'll play it like we played all those games in that situation. We'll rest the guys who need rest and play the guys who need to play. If we don't win this week, then next week becomes a must-win and that's how we'll approach it.

"We're looking at this as being a playoff game for us, getting ourselves in. That will be the incentive, that practice will be a little different. We'll have some more days off after this game.

"If we don't win, we'll have to come back in, go to work and get ready to go and we'll have another playoff game next week."

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