Solid Offense, Special Teams Key to Victory over Houston, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Upon review, Tony Dungy said the Colts weren't perfect.
Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said after reviewing tape from a victory over the Houston Texans Sunday, the Colts' defense allowed too many big plays, an issue that put a slight damper on the afternoon.
But the offense played well, perhaps its best game of the season.
Dungy said the special teams played well, too.
And in this case – in a back-and-forth game against a division rival with postseason positioning very much at stake – Dungy said two out of three wasn't bad.
It also was enough for a critical mid-November victory.
"We weren't as tight as we needed to be (defensively)," Dungy said Monday, one day after the Colts' third consecutive victory, a 33-27 victory over the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"But when the other two phases operate well, you can still win the game. That's what happened."
The Colts (6-4), the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team the past six seasons, remained four games behind South leader Tennessee (10-0), the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team and a 24-14 winner over Jacksonville Sunday.
But with the victory, the Colts enhanced their wild-card positioning for a third consecutive week.
The Colts, while being among five AFC teams at 6-4, hold the No. 5 seed in the conference, ranking ahead of Baltimore (6-4), Miami (6-4) and New England (6-4) because of a superior AFC record. The Denver Broncos are also 6-4 and lead the West by two games.
Pittsburgh (7-3) and the New York Jets (7-3) lead the North and East, respectively.
Six teams make the playoffs from each conference – the champions of the four divisions and the two teams with the best records among non-division winners.
There are currently 11 teams in the AFC with records of 4-6 or better, with the Buffalo Bills at 5-4 and the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars – playoff teams last season – each at 4-6.
Dungy said the Colts remained atop the non-division leaders on Sunday with the same formula that has been successful in recent weeks.
The Colts, after back-to-back double-digit road losses in late October, have not a committed a turnover in November, and Dungy said it's no coincidence they have won critical conference games against New England, Pittsburgh and Houston during that span.
The Colts are 28-2 since 1998 when they haven't committed a turnover, and after committing five first-half penalties for 40 yards Sunday, they committed one for five yards in the second half. Indianapolis outscored Houston, 24-14, in the second half Sunday.
"We've had a lot of the things you need to win in the last three weeks," Dungy said, speaking at his weekly next-day news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
On Sunday, Dungy said one of those things was an offensive performance that featured consistency and productivity lacking at times this season.
The Colts, after ranking in the Top 10 in the NFL in total offense nine consecutive seasons, entered Sunday's game ranked 22nd in the NFL in the category. They produced a season-high 474 total yards Sunday, and as of Monday, are ranked 17th offensively.
The Colts rushed for a season-high 154 yards, with running back Joseph Addai – a Pro Bowl selection last season – registering his first 100-yard game since last November, rushing 22 times for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Peyton Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, completed 30 of 46 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns for a 99.9 passer rating,
Manning has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the last three games.
"We've turned the ball over less and less," Dungy said. "We're getting the ball quick, cutting down on our sacks. We're cutting down on a lot of the long-yardage situations we've been in. We've avoided the penalties. I think our whole offense has kind of sharpened up as the year has gone by. . . .
"I thought our offense really clicked – maybe for the first time all year. We got our running game going and that got us some looks at one-on-one coverage on the outside."
Dungy also called Sunday one of the Colts' best efforts of the season on special teams, with kicker Adam Vinatieri converting four-of-four field-goal attempts and Hunter Smith punting once for 55 yards. The Colts also limited the Texans to a 25.9-yard average on kickoff returns.
Dungy said the lone issue on special teams was a 39-yard punt return by Texans returner Jacoby Jones one play after the Colts were penalized for an illegal substitution. The penalty forced a repunt after a punt by Smith had led to a fair catch at the Texans 17.
Defensively, Dungy said there were strong points, and said the primary issue was three big plays allowed – a 71-yard touchdown run by rookie Steve Slaton, a 26-yard run by Slaton that set up a field goal and a 61-yard pass from quarterback Sage Rosenfels to wide receiver Kevin Walter that set up another touchdown.
"They're plays we really should be able to handle," Dungy said, "but Houston gives you a lot of things and they have a lot of weaponry. It was one long pass and really two long runs really that kind of put a damper on things.
"I thought we had some clutch drives answering some of their scores."
And the result, Dungy said, was a good enough performance to start a winning streak – a streak that he said is coming at an imant time.
"It was a big win for us, and one we definitely needed to get that home win, and another division win," Dungy said.