INDIANAPOLIS – The past 10 years of Colts football has brought a number of statistics into play which an organization never would predict it could approach.
The club set the NFL record for most regular-season wins in a decade, amassing 115 from 2000-09. It set the league mark with 23 consecutive regular-season wins from 2008-09. Noteworthy also was the club's 81-19 regular-season mark from a period during the 2003-09 seasons, a performance that tied the NFL's best 100-game won-loss record in history.
On personal levels, quarterback Peyton Manning with 4,000-yard performances and touchdown passes established records. Former wide receiver Marvin Harrison etched his name in a few reception places, as did former kicker Mike Vanderjagt with consecutive field goals and career percentages. Vice Chairman Bill Polian won more Executive of the Year awards than any strategist ever in the pro game.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney is approaching a significant career milestone, too. With one-and-a-half more sacks, he would become the 26th NFL player ever to record 100 quarterback sacks.
Freeney has been one of the most dominant defensive players in the club's history that dates back to 1953. Since sacks did not become an officially measured statistic by the NFL until 1982, however, it is not possible to measure Freeney's total against other prominent Colts such as defensive ends Gino Marchetti and Bubba Smith.
Freeney is aware of how special the plateau will be if he can accomplish it, and he estimates how it would feel with an analogy of a baseball accomplishment.
"It's definitely a special thing just because not too many guys can say they've been there," said Freeney. "It's like 500 home runs in baseball. It's equivalent to that feeling for a baseball player."
Jim Caldwell is the second head coach Freeney has played for in Indianapolis. Caldwell holds Freeney's talents in high regard, along with the influence he has on opponents.
"Dwight Freeney is an outstanding player," said Caldwell. "Dwight is a true force who factors into every team's plan when facing the Colts. Dwight's motor runs at a high level, and it stays there from the snap of the ball until the whistle. His numbers are extraordinary and he is such an elite player that some of his better games are when those numbers are down. When the numbers are down on those rare occasions, it is only because Dwight is such a focal point in an opponent's preparation. It is a pleasure to have him on the team."
The drafting of Freeney, 6-1, 268, raised eyebrows from some observers when the club tabbed him as the 11th overall pick in 2002. The only raised eyebrows since then have been those of opponents.
Freeney subbed in his first eight career games before starting at Philadelphia on November 10, 2002. He had seven tackles, three forced fumbles, four pressures and one sack to earn AFC Defensive-Player-of-the-Week honors. He went on to record 13 sacks, nine forced fumbles and one fumble recovered in winning All-Rookie Team honors.
It was quite a splash for a rookie, but Freeney's first Colts head coach, Tony Dungy, knew his addition would pay dividends.
"In 2002, my first year as head coach of the Colts, we held the 11th pick in the draft and we wanted to pick a player who would have an immediate impact," said Dungy. "We felt Dwight Freeney, was the player who fit our defensive scheme the best, and he was special from day one of camp. His combination of speed, quickness and desire made him the perfect DE for the Colts' system and a critical piece of our Super Bowl winning defense."
The hits kept coming from Freeney. He has seven of the 17 double-digit sack seasons in club history, the most by any player. He has 24 career multiple-sack games, including five contests with three sacks. He has quarterback takedowns in 73 of 138 career games and in 64 of 119 starts. Though other statistics contribute to victories, the team owns a record of 56-17 in games where Freeney has produced a sack. From 2008-09, Freeney had sacks in nine consecutive games, establishing the franchise record and ranking at the time as the third-longest streak in NFL history.
When Freeney landed his first Pro Bowl nomination in 2003, he joined linebacker Duane Bickett (1987) as the only defensive players in the club's Indianapolis era to earn the honor. He was the first Colts lineman since defensive tackle Mike Barnes and defensive end John Dutton (1977) to be cited. In being voted in also in 2004 and 2005, he matched Dutton (1975-77) in earning three straight Pro Bowl bids.
Freeney and tag-team partner Robert Mathis at the other end position earned Pro Bowl citations from 2008-10, and they are the only end tandems in club history to play together in a Pro Bowl. Marchetti and defensive end Don Joyce were voted in after the 1958 season, but Marchetti was injured prior to the Pro Bowl. Freeney and Mathis are the NFL's only defensive end tandem since 1970 to play in three straight Pro Bowls.
Freeney has produced sacks against 47 different quarterbacks, including 28 he has leveled multiple times. He has sacks against 26 of 31 NFL teams. More importantly, he has participated in 100 career regular-season victories with the club, standing as one of 13 players in franchise history to hold that distinction.
As he nears the personal achievement, Freeney is aware fully that this is not something he did by himself. In the NFL, success comes because of the work of others, and he is grateful to coaches and teammates.
"Absolutely. It's not just an individual thing either. Football is the ultimate sport where it takes a team to achieve any type of personal achievement," said Freeney. "I don't care if you're a running back, it takes an offensive line. If you're a quarterback, it takes an offensive line and receivers. If you're a receiver, it takes a quarterback. If you're a defensive lineman, it takes coverage and other people in the front seven. You have to balance up the whole equation. It's not only something you think about from a personal standpoint, it is from a team standpoint. I have to give credit to my coaches, too."
100 CAREER SACKS
200.0 Bruce Smith
198.0 Reggie White
160.0 Kevin Greene
150.5 Chris Doleman
141.5 Michael Strahan
137.5 John Randle
137.5 Richard Dent
133.5 Jason Taylor
132.5 Lawrence Taylor
132.5 Leslie O'Neal
128.0 Rickey Jackson
126.5 Derrick Thomas
122.0 Simeon Rice
121.5 Clyde Simmons
113.0 Sean Jones
109.5 Greg Townsend
107.5 Pat Swilling
106.0 Trace Armstrong
104.5 Kevin Carter
104.5 John Abraham
104.5 Neil Smith
102.5 Jim Jeffcoat
100.5 Charles Haley
100.5 William Fuller
100.0 Andre Tippett
FREENEY SACKS BY OPPONENT
4.0 Dallas, Miami
3.0 Minnesota, New England, NY Jets
2.5 Atlanta, Denver
2.0 Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, NY Giants, San Diego, San Francisco
1.5 Kansas City
1.0 Oakland, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle
0.5 Tampa Bay
0.0 Arizona, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, Washington
FREENEY SACKS BY QUARTERBACK (47 TOTAL)
7.0 David Carr, Steve McNair
4.5 Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger
4.0 Carson Palmer, David Garrard
3.0 Trent Dilfer, Sage Rosenfels, Byron Leftwich, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Billy Volek
2.0 15 players
1.5 Two players
1.0 15 players
0.5 Three players