INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL calendar changes from November to December this week as the Colts move toward the final five games of the season.
Indianapolis is one week removed from its open date, and the club had competed for 14 consecutive weeks (counting preseason) prior to reaching the needed time off.
The 2011 season has held immense challenges for the team over the first eleven games. Though the schedule has not produced a victory so far, the resolve and commitment by players to fight on continues.
Questions asked at different points during the season about possible feelings of frustration have revealed the mindset of a team that refuses to cease working. The feelings of frustration are natural, and positive.
"They (players) should be (frustrated with losses that started the season)," said Head Coach Caldwell following a 10-point loss to Cincinnati, the club's sixth game. "Number one, there should be some frustration and there should be some disappointment. I'd be a little upset if there wasn't. … We've got a job to do, and we haven't been getting it done. … A good thing about it is that we've got some mature guys. One of the good things, obviously, when we're in a situation that we're in now, we're not worried about anything other than getting the next win. That's what we're worried about."
Caldwell's quiet demeanor in no way obscures his competitive nature for those who know him or observe him on a frequent basis. The team's past achievements such as nine straight playoff appearances and 10 -victory seasons from 2002-10 could not have been accomplished without the internal drive and commitment by every member of the organization.
As the final five games approach, including this Sunday's contest at New England, any feelings of frustration are positive, according to players. After all, if there were no frustration, it would be cause for concern.
"Exactly," said cornerback Jerraud Powers. "There are a lot of frustrated guys in the locker room. Guy are going to continue to come in every day, work hard and do whatever we can to get this thing turned around. If guys weren't angry with the situation we're in, I'd be more worried. You see guys frustrated, but you see guys still come in here and working hard. It shows the type of leadership we have in the locker room and will of the guys to whatever they possibly can to get it turned around."
Defensive tackle Fili Moala has started nine of 11 games at left defensive tackle. He knows exactly what Caldwell and Powers speak about.
"If I told you there was no frustration, I'd be lying," said Moala. "The thing with that is everyone cares. Everyone in this locker room, we all support each other. We all encourage each other daily to improve. That's what it's all about. As soon as there is any kind of separation in this locker room, that's when you can chalk it up, break it down and put it away in a box. We're not going to win (if that ever happens). As far as teammates, we support each other. I feel like there is a little frustration, but nothing that will separate any of us."
Moala has seen the club battle through injuries that have affected personnel throughout the season. He has seen Indianapolis go through an early stretch during the year when it incurred a number of close losses much like the one it had last Sunday in falling to Carolina, 27-19. There have been other games when the final margins were much larger, but Moala is confident that any frustration he sees is because of the nature of teammates who are committed to winning.
"That's the frustration I'm speaking of," said Moala. "Guys want to win. It's not like guys have just thrown in the towel. That's what is it (healthy frustration). That (bad frustration) doesn't exist in this locker room. We're all still very hungry, still very competitive. I know that before this season is over, we'll put something together."
Moala is three seasons into his career. He started one of 10 games in 2009 when the Colts advanced to Super Bowl XLIV. He started 16 times last year as Indianapolis opened with a 6-3 record that dropped to 6-6 before the team ran the table and won the AFC South with a 10-6 record. He is aware fully of the only performance standard that matters, and coming close does not approximate that standard.
"It only matters in horseshoes, so they say," said Moala. "It's all about winning here. That's the way it's always been. That's the way it's always been everywhere I've been, and that's especially true here. There is no such thing as moral victories. It's nice that people are improving. That's what you want but as long as you have the goose egg in the win column, all that's for naught."
Moala and his teammates prepare for a New England team that stands at 8-3 and in first-place in the AFC East. The Colts and Patriots have played in some of the more memorable NFL games in recent history. The teams have battled annually in regular-season action since 2003, and this Sunday's game marks the 12th time since then the teams have competed against each other. Eight of those matchups have been in league play. The three others occurred in post-season, including two that decided the AFC title.
Moala has played in two of those regular season games, and he is well-schooled in series history.
"Every game is a big one," said Moala. "It is a big rivalry, dating back to Peyton's (Manning) early years. There have been some good games. We look forward to performing. Hopefully, we get one on the board."
When asked about competing against a potent offense directed by quarterback Tom Brady, Moala claims it will be necessary for the defense, and the tackles in particular, to play well.
"We don't go into any games not thinking we can get someone from the interior," said Moala of trying to create pressure on Brady. "Definitely, it will be a big issue this week. We're going to have to fluster him, keep him on the move and not let him set up in the pocket and deliver the ball."