COLTS NOTEBOOK

The two winningest teams in the NFL over the past decade will square off this Sunday night inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Also, Colts rookies continue to step up, and the team moves forward into the third quarter of the season.

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8-0 Colts Prepare for Sunday Night Game Against New England

The two winningest teams in the NFL over the past decade will square off on Sunday night inside Lucas Oil Stadium

While there is plenty of hype surrounding the Indianapolis-New England rivalry, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he and the rest of the team are treating the game just like any other.

"We're not going to prepare any differently," Caldwell said on Monday. "We're not going to do anything any differently than we do any other week. Obviously, it's a big game (against) a very, very talented opponent. That's how we're going to address it."

After defeating the Houston Texans, another AFC rival, last Sunday, the Colts now stand at 8-0, atop their conference and tied with the New Orleans Saints for the best record in the NFL.

This week presents a new challenge, although a familiar opponent, as the Colts prepare to face the AFC East-leading Patriots in the concluding game of a three-week homestand.

"Every one of (our games against New England) has been a real battle," Caldwell said. "A bunch of them have gone right down to the wire. They've been really tough contests … I think they've all been quite memorable."

And they also have been favorable in recent history for the Colts. Indianapolis has won three of their last four games against the Patriots, including an 18-15 victory in Lucas Oil Stadium last year.

Caldwell downplayed the growing hype towards Sunday's game and reiterated the team is treating the upcoming contest just like the eight that have preceded it this season.

The Colts coach simply described Sunday's game as, "The next one."

"The next one for us is a big one," he said. "The next one for us is the most important one."

POWERS, LACEY STEP UP; POWERS NOMINATED FOR WEEKLY AWARD
By almost every other measure imaginable, the Indianapolis Colts are a veteran team.

But at cornerback, the Colts right now are as young as the 2009 season.

Injuries struck the secondary last week, shelving three veterans: Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders for the season and Kelvin Hayden for a few weeks.

But instead of worrying about who would not be playing last Sunday, Caldwell said the Colts focused on who would be lining up against the Texans.

"We look at it as an opportunity for someone to step up, take someone's place, to get a little bit more playing time than they ordinarily would have," he said. "Oftentimes, guys don't see that crack that they have, that opportunity, but I sort of make certain that they do."

In place of Hayden, Caldwell inserted undrafted rookie free agent Jacob Lacey. Lining up alongside Lacey at cornerback was fellow rookie Jerraud Powers, who was starting in his seventh game this season.

While some head coaches would be hesitant to start two rookies at defensive back, Caldwell embraced the approach and watched Powers and Lacey excel.

Powers finished with 10 tackles and recorded the first interception of his career, while Lacey totaled nine tackles and split time with Powers lining up across from Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson.

"One of the things I think that you have to take into consideration is that they have been playing for awhile now," Caldwell said. "It started way back in the preseason where we may have had some guys that weren't playing during the course of the week. So, they had to get in and get some playing time and get a little under their belt.

"They've probably played maybe 10 games. Jerraud has for certain, and Jacob has played quite a bit, as well," he said.

The Colts coach said that while players like Powers and Lacey are technically rookies, the coaching staff treats them just like any other player.

"We don't allow them to make any excuses because of inexperience," he said. "They study, they prepare like everyone else. We hold them to a standard, in terms of what we expect from them, and they measure up to it."

Caldwell said the team has seen immediate dividends in the unorthodox approach.

"They have been improving week-by-week," Caldwell said. "They have the kind of attitude that I think is important. They study hard, they work extremely hard and they're mature as well."

So mature, in fact, that Caldwell no longer views them the same way he did when they first came to training camp.

"They're not quite seasoned, but I wouldn't consider them rookies either," he said.

This week, Caldwell said Powers and Lacey might face their most difficult test of the season – defending New England's Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"We have to get ready for maybe one of the best corps of wide receivers that we'll see, and couple that with an outstanding quarterback who is a cut above," Caldwell said. "(Powers and Lacey) have their work cut out for them. It'll be a challenge."

Powers' performance last Sunday made him a finalist along with Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, Washington linebacker/defensive end Brian Orakpo, Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace for NFL Rookie-of-the-Week honors.

Fans can vote for the award at NFL.com/rookies beginning Tuesday at 9 a.m. (ET) through noon (ET) on Friday.

AND NOW, ON TO THE THIRD QUARTER
Just like former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, Caldwell said he likes to split the team's regular-season schedule up into four quarters.

"We were 4-0 in the first quarter, 4-0 in the second quarter. We can't do any better than that, in terms of record," he said.

But despite the unblemished record, the Colts coach said he hopes his team can improve in this third quarter.

After seeing his team "sputtering a little bit" last week, Caldwell said he knows his team can do better.

"We probably aren't finishing drives like we'd like to on offense," he said. "From a defensive standpoint, we're having some really great stretches along the way…but we'd still like to get a little bit better."

After New England, the Colts play two consecutive road games against Baltimore and Houston. The unofficial closing to the third quarter of the season will come on Dec. 6 at home against Tennessee.

Overall, Caldwell said he is pleased with his team's performance through eight games, but is aware that his ballclub is not quite yet playing up to its potential.

"We just have to keep finding ways to get better week-to-week," he said.

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