Colts Still Working to Get Out of Early-Season Hole, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – The time isn't right for relaxing. Not yet.
And really, not even close.
Tony Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said while back-to-back victories over AFC Division leaders unquestionably have enhanced the team's chance to make a second-half run at a seventh consecutive postseason appearance, that's all the victories have given the Colts:
They have, Dungy said, guaranteed nothing.
Which he said means much, more needs to be accomplished.
"We're playing a little bit better," Dungy said Monday, a day after the Colts rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit for a 24-20 victory over the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers, the Colts' first victory in Pittsburgh in 40 years.
"Getting some guys back helps you, and we're a little bit healthier. I think guys still feel like we've dug ourselves a hole.
"We aren't digging down anymore, but we're still in the hole."
The Colts (5-4), the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team in each of Dungy's six previous seasons, still face a four-game deficit in the AFC South, with division-leading Tennessee (9-0) beating Chicago on Sunday to remain the NFL's lone unbeaten team.
But the rest of the AFC is another story. A tightly-contested, competitive story.
The Colts, who a week ago beat the AFC East-leading New England Patriots, with the victory over Pittsburgh remained within a game of New England (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), Baltimore (6-3) and the New York Jets (6-3), who share the AFC's second-best record.
The Colts, New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Jets are among 10 AFC teams with between four-to-six victories with seven games remaining. The others are Buffalo (5-4), Miami (5-4), Denver (5-4), Jacksonville (4-5) and San Diego (4-5).
"It's always like that," Dungy said. "It's just for the last five or six years we haven't had to think about it too much. It's no different than it has been in the past. Three weeks from now, there will be a few less and three weeks from there, there will be a few less.
"It's probably no different than it always has been."
The Colts, in winning the last five division titles, typically have played most of the season with leads – and often with leads of two or three games. They led the AFC South from start-to-finish in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007, starting 5-0, 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0, respectively in those seasons.
In 2002 and 2004, they started 4-4 and 4-3 before finishing 6-2 and 8-1 to secure playoff spots. This season, Dungy has said in recent weeks, will be more like '02 and '04, with the Colts needing to peak in November and December.
Dungy said the coming weeks will be critical to the Colts' postseason chances with games against the Houston Texans (3-6, Sunday), at San Diego (November 23) and at Cleveland (3-6, November 30) the next three weeks.
The Colts already have victories over Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore, and they lost to Jacksonville in Week 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We're playing the teams that are contending with us," Dungy said. "We'll have a chance to have a good AFC record, which is the No. 1 tiebreaker, if we continue to win. What we have to do is win. If we win 11 or 12 games, I think we'll be in there. If you win nine, you probably won't. If you win 10, it's going to be dicey.
"We just have to keep winning and not put it in other people's hands, not worry about tiebreakers, and keep winning."
Dungy, speaking at his weekly next-day news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, called the victory over Pittsburgh "gratifying," primarily because of the circumstances in which it was achieved.
The Colts, who earlier this season rallied from double-digit road deficits to win in Minnesota and Houston, on Sunday trailed the Steelers by 10 points in the first half. They allowed just three points thereafter, forcing three critical turnovers and turning in a key, fourth-quarter goal line stand to limit the Steelers to a field goal.
The takeaways allowed the Colts offense to score touchdowns on drives of 30 and 32 yards against the NFL's top-ranked defense, and the Colts' other touchdown came on a 65-yard pass from quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
"I thought it was a big win for us in a lot of ways," Dungy said. "Coming from 10 down, that's not easy to do, especially there against a good team, on the road. That's certainly a team you don't want to fall behind and have to get one-dimensional and throw to win."
For that reason, Dungy said the game's key play came when Colts cornerback Keiwan Ratliff intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger late in the second quarter.
The interception gave Indianapolis possession at the Steelers 30. Four plays later, with :06 remaining in the half, Manning's two-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark made it 17-14, Steelers.
"We got the big interception from Keiwan that got us back in the game," Dungy said. "So, we didn't have to face that uphill battle of having to throw. I thought that was big."
Dungy said although the Colts continued a recent trend of playing more fundamentally-sound, improvement could still be made in the area. The Colts did not commit a turnover for the second consecutive week and forced three by the Steelers, but were penalized six times for 45 yards.
"We had some fundamental errors," Dungy said. "All in all, I thought we played hard and held together and won a game when we needed to make plays in the fourth quarter to win, so that was positive."
Another positive, Dungy said, was having a productive day offensively against one of the NFL's top defensive teams, something he said the Colts have done more than once this season.
On October 12, the Baltimore Ravens entered a game at Lucas Oil Stadium with the NFL's top-ranked defense. The Colts had one of their best offensive games of the season in a 31-3 victory and are the only team this season to score more than 30 points on the Ravens.
On Sunday, the Colts became the first team this season to score more than 21 points against Pittsburgh, and two weeks ago against Tennessee, the Colts became the only team this season to score more than 20 points against the Titans.
"Baltimore and Pittsburgh are tough," Dungy said. "We scored points against them. They hadn't been giving up points before we played them, either one, and we got points. We got points against Tennessee. We're showing signs of moving the ball.
"Our whole team just has to build a little bit more consistency, doing things right more often than not, and we're going to be in good shape."