FIRED UP AND READY

Defensive end Dwight Freeney watched from the sidelines last January as the Colts' season ended with a postseason loss to San Diego. This year, the Colts are again playing the Chargers in the playoffs.

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One Year After Missing Postseason, Freeney Ready for Playoff Opener Saturday
INDIANAPOLIS – The memory isn't one Dwight Freeney wants to relive.

Freeney, the Colts' four-time Pro Bowl defensive end, unhappily watched from the sidelines last January as the Colts' season ended with a 28-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in the final game in the history of the RCA Dome.

This year, the Colts are again playing the Chargers in the playoffs.

Only this year, Freeney won't be watching.

Because this year, he's healthy.

And for that, he said he couldn't be more grateful. Or more excited.

"Last year at this time, I was sitting on the sideline watching the game," Freeney said Wednesday as the Colts (12-4) prepared to play the Chargers in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., Saturday at 8 p.m.

"That was probably one of my lowest points, lowest moments. This one's a high one. Now, I'm going back to the field I got hurt at. Again. I always remember that a little bit, so I'm going to be fired up and ready to play this game."

Freeney, the Colts' all-time sacks leader, sustained a foot injury last November in a loss to San Diego. The injury ended his season, and he said he didn't return to watch a Colts game in person until the teams played in the postseason.

In that game, Chargers quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Billy Volek combined to complete 17 of 23 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns with an interception for a passer rating of 137.2. The Chargers completed seven passes of more than 20 yards.

The Colts did not sack either player in the game.

The game was part of a four-game stretch at the end of last season in which the Colts registered a total of one sack. Defensive end Robert Mathis sacked Rivers twice in a 23-20 Colts victory in San Diego in November, and Colts players said this week pressuring Rivers will be key Saturday.

"We didn't put that much pressure on him last year," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said. "So, we're going to put a lot of emphasis on getting to the quarterback and making them make some mistakes."

The return to health of Freeney, combined with the continued emergence of Mathis as one of the NFL's best pass rushers, has been key for the Colts' 11th-ranked defense this season. Mathis led Indianapolis with 11.5 sacks, and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Freeney, who missed the last seven games last season, registered 10.5 sacks – his first double-digit sack season since registering three consecutive such seasons from 2003-2005 – and was voted to the Pro Bowl for a fourth time.

Asked this week if Saturday's game will be decided by pressure on the quarterback, he replied, "Most games are – pretty much all of them are, but this game, definitely.

"We have to get back there, rattle him," Freeney said. "We can't give him time to throw the ball, especially with what they do. They like to leave a lot of guys in to protect, so it's imant we come up with some stuff and just go out there and try our best to rattle him."

Freeney on Wednesday also was among several Colts players addressing what has become one of the side topics of the week: the facial hair of running back Dominic Rhodes.

Rhodes on Tuesday appeared before the media at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center with a full beard, something he said has been growing since the beginning of a nine-game winning streak that secured the Colts' seventh consecutive postseason appearance.

"I started before Dom," Freeney said, referring to his own beard. "Dom never cut it. He looked like an elf."

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne also said he had no plans to adopt Rhodes' look.

"I can't go for the Wolfman look too long, but if it works it works," Wayne said. "Maybe he's like Samson: his strength is in his hair. If it works for him, I'm all for it. If he feels like that's what's been keeping him afloat, then he can be ZZ Top for all I care."

Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Rhodes, who missed the regular-season finale with a chest injury, "looks like he's going to be OK."

In other news, the Colts on Wednesday released their first injury report of the week, with linebacker Gary Brackett (fibula), defensive tackle Eric Foster (finger), wide receiver Pierre Garcon (knee), cornerback Tim Jennings (not injury related-rested), offensive guard Mike Pollak (ankle), cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (groin), center Jamey Richard (ankle) and safety Bob Sanders (not injury related-rested) listed as not participating in practice.

Dungy said the Colts likely will see on Friday what Richard and Pollak can do in practice.

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