Manning Says Past is Past, and What Matters as the Colts Prepare for Season Opener is Now
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning heard the message, and he got it immediately.
The past is the past, Manning said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell told the team Wednesday morning, repeating a message he has said more than once since taking over as head coach in January.
The seven consecutive playoff appearances?
The NFL-record six consecutive 12-or-more victory seasons?
The five consecutive AFC South titles from 2003-2007?
All were accomplished by the Colts in the last half-decade or so, and all are major accomplishments. But Manning, entering his 12th season as the Colts' starting quarterback, said just as Indianapolis never was a franchise to look back under former Head Coach Tony Dungy, neither is it such a franchise now.
What matters is the present, Manning said.
And the present is very much at hand.
"It's really more, 'Look to the now – focus on the now,' Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (12-4 last season, 2nd in AFC South) prepared to play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11, fourth in AFC South) in the 2009 regular-season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We have not dwelt on anything in the past, either positive or negative. We're focused on this game, this season, and these players. I think that's the right attitude, the right approach.
"I think all of our players realize we need to play this year with a sense of urgency."
The Colts, after five consecutive division-title seasons in which they started no worse than 4-1, lost last year's season-opener, 29-13, to the Chicago Bears in the first regular-season game in Lucas Oil Stadium. They then started 3-4, their worst seven-game record in a decade, and after falling behind eventual AFC South champion Tennessee by four games, won their final nine regular-season games to make the playoffs as a wild card.
They then lost a first-round playoff game at San Diego, 23-17.
"We want to try to make this a special season, and the only way to that is get started on the right foot," Manning said.
The Colts enter the season in the wake of changes throughout the coaching staff and lineup. Caldwell is entering his first season as an NFL head coach after seven seasons as a Colts assistant, and defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski are in their first Colts seasons.
Offensively, the Colts enter the season without eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison, and rookie running back Donald Brown, rookie wide receiver Austin Collie, second-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon are expected to play extensive roles. Guard Ryan Lilja has returned to the starting lineup after missing last season with a knee injury, and Charlie Johnson – a 12-game starter at guard last season – is starting at left tackle.
"When you have some new guys in there, you can't turn a first-year running back into a 10-year veteran after four preseason games,' Manning said. "Those guys will continue to learn from experience, and we'll learn together and grow together. Obviously, the defense has a new system. They'll continue to learn that, as well as the special teams.
"There are some changes we've gone through. I think it will be a process. Hopefully, we can learn throughout the season and win at the same time."
Of the offensive line, Manning said, "Even though you have some different guys, you do have veteran guys in there. Lilja didn't play last year, but he has played in enough games that I know what we'll get from him, then Charlie has played in a lot of big games.
"The fact that (11-year veteran center) Jeff (Saturday) and (nine-year veteran) Ryan Diem are in there is obviously very comforting. (Guard Mike) Pollak is still a young player and he'll continue to grow, so certainly we feel good about that situation."
The Jaguars perennially have been an AFC South contender under seven-year head coach Jack Del Rio, finishing .500 or better each season from 2004-2007, including an 11-5 record in 2007. The Colts and Jaguars split the season series a year ago.
The Jaguars, like the Colts, have a new defensive coordinator, with Mel Tucker replacing Gregg Williams.
"It's a tough game to start the season with," Manning said. "Coach Caldwell shared with us today that it's one of those 'double-whammy' games. It's a home game. You want to start off on the right foot at home and it's a division game. You want to try to not fall behind in the division like we did last year. There's a lot of emphasis on this game early, and hopefully, we can get started off on the right foot. . .
"The time for talking about it is over. Now, we have to go out and do it and see what happens."
The Colts, who swept the Jaguars in 2007, are 12-4 against Jacksonville, with the teams splitting four of the last six seasons (2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008).
"It's like Coach Caldwell shared today, 'It's a team with one goal and one purpose,' Manning said. "The way we've accomplished our goals in the past, and the way we hope to accomplish them this year, is by taking it one game at a time and not looking ahead.
"It's really all about Jacksonville and trying to improve the Colts this week."
WEDNESDAY INJURY RE
Also on Wednesday, the Colts released the first injury report of the week, with defensive backs Bob Sanders (knee) and Jamie Silva (abdomen) and tight end Tom Santi (ankle) listed as not participating in practice.