INDIANAPOLIS –As Wednesday dawns, the Colts are five days away from playing the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
It will mark the third road game for Indianapolis, its second foray into AFC South action. The Colts aim to correct ills on those fronts.
The Colts have dropped both road games this season in difficult fashion. Indianapolis lost at Chicago in the opener, 41-21, in a game where it committed five turnovers and fell from a 10-point halftime deficit to 20 points by yielding two quick second-half scores.
The Colts did not have a chance to correct the road outcome until four games and a bye week later, but Indianapolis was uneven in its play and fell at the New York Jets, 35-9. Four Colts turnovers helped decide the contest, and the season's minus-nine turnover ratio has been built largely on those two outings.
Indianapolis is 3-1 at home, but the lone loss was of the divisional variety to Jacksonville on September 23, 22-17. The Colts took the lead in the final minute, 17-16, but surrendered an 80-yard touchdown pass in losing to the Jaguars.
Sunday is the next step for the Colts, a team featuring eight rookies, 30 players with no more than three years of league experience and with only 20 active players who joined the team prior to this season.
Indianapolis has established an ability to bounce back from setbacks, earning wins every Sunday this season after a loss occurred. For a team that was 2-14 a year ago, it is a measurable.
"After a loss, we don't get down as a team," said tackle Anthony Castonzo. "We're looking forward to the next game. Even after a win, we're looking ahead. We always put things behind us. We come back from games, whether it's a loss or a win, and we look to come back play hard."
Bouncing back from a bitter loss at New York was paramount last Sunday, and Indianapolis responded. Under interim head coach Bruce Arians, coaching in his third game for an ill Chuck Pagano, the Colts opened with two touchdowns for a 14-6 lead. Indianapolis was able to extend the lead to four points in the third quarter and held on to win.
Castonzo is like his teammates in having bigger goals than the .500 record, but it does represent a three-game improvement from a year ago at this time, and it has been done with a new coaching staff and typical veteran leadership.
"I think it's across the board the coaches and the players," said Castonzo of the team's even-keeled nature. "We still have our core veteran leaders who always keep us on the right track. I'm talking about Robert Mathis, he's a leader for the offense and defense. He's a very vocal guy who makes sure we're on the even keel. Reggie Wayne is looking forward to the next play. It's a testament of leadership with our coaches and players."
With 20- and 26-point losses away from Lucas Oil Stadium, there is a remaining task at hand.
"To really show what we have, we have to win on the road," said Castonzo. "Every good playoff team has a couple of good wins on the road to get to that spot. We need to do that."
Indianapolis is not harboring distinct post-season plans at the moment, but the aspiration is there just as it is for every team. Arians spoke last week of the critical need to win to stay abreast of the jockeying for AFC positioning as the league schedule reaches week eight.
Arians did not coach alongside Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, so he never heard how Dungy openly framed the present to his teams in a direct manner. Arians is the same type, however, in describing the moment and not shying away from talk about being in the hunt.
"That's why we're here. We're here to get in the playoffs and play the game and go," said Arians openly this week. "We're with a bunch of teams right now, and it's time to start stringing some wins together and adding to the excitement. There's nothing like getting in the playoff hunt and coming to practices with a bit more verve and ready-to-go every Wednesday. I think our guys will show up Wednesday extremely excited."
Of the 16 teams in the conference, 10 are either 3-3 or 3-4 after seven weeks of play. Houston (6-1), Baltimore (5-2) and New England (4-3) are the only AFC teams over .500.
The league itself has been very competitive in 2012. Through seven weeks of play, 62 games have been decided by eight points or fewer, the most such games through that period of any NFL season. If five more games match that trend this weekend, it will set the record for the most decided by eight points or fewer through eight weeks. A total of 66 games in 1999 were determined by that margin range through eight weeks.
The Colts are contributing to that trend. The team has had four of its six games decided by five points or less (23-20 win over Minnesota; 22-17 loss to Jacksonville; 30-27 win over Green Bay; 17-13 win over Cleveland). All those games were played in Indianapolis, and they represent the most games decided by five points or less through six contests since the same number in 1996.
Asked if the team's large number of turnovers came because the team was playing away from home, quarterback Andrew Luck pondered the query, but he is sure the trend needs to stop.
"I don't know. I've thought about it and I don't think I have the answer," said Luck. "Maybe it just requires a little more focus, a little more attention to detail. Hopefully, those (turnovers) will come down because we realize if we continue on that path, with averaging four a game on the road, we will be lucky to win one game on the road."
The Colts hope to stack a win behind a win in battling the Titans. The see-saw nature of outcomes is something the Colts want to stop. Tennessee has a current two-game winning run, but it has had two two-game losing streaks. The Titans are 2-1 at LP Field, with compelling three-point wins over Detroit (44-41) and Pittsburgh (26-23).
Arians has marched into the venue before and knows it will be a spirited site and opponent for his club.
"(This is a) big challenge this week at Tennessee. (It's a) hard place to go play," said Arians. "They're starting to rebound, and it looks like they're heading in the right direction. It'll be a really good challenge for us."
PERSONNEL NEWS -- The Colts have signed outside linebacker Monte Simmons to the practice squad. Simmons, 6-3, 226, spent last season on the San Francisco practice squad after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State on July 28, 2011. He was signed as a free agent by Philadelphia on March 5, 2012 and was waived on August 30, 2012.