After 5-0 November, Dungy Says Colts Must Continue to Get Better in December
INDIANAPOLIS – A day later, Tony Dungy's reaction was mixed.
Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said while a victory on a cold, wet Sunday in Cleveland was imant for several reasons – foremost among them the Colts continuing to enhance their playoff positioning – there was much with which to be concerned.
Because Dungy said although the Colts beat the Cleveland Browns, 10-6, in Cleveland, Ohio, and that although they negotiated five games in November without a loss, they likely won't be able to continue their recent run playing as they did Sunday.
The Colts had three turnovers offensively. They failed to convert a goal-line situation. Defensively, they allowed too many extended, time-consuming drives. And for the first time in five seasons, they failed to score a touchdown in a regular-season game.
So, yes, Dungy said an extended winning streak is nice, particularly in November.
But improvement must be made.
"I think we're learning about what it takes to play those close games, and that's probably a good thing for us in the long run," Dungy said Monday afternoon during his weekly next-day news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"But we are going to need to play better in December."
The Colts (8-4), who ended October with back-to-back, double-digit road losses at Green Bay and Tennessee to slip under .500 after seven games for the first time in a decade, now have won five consecutive games – their seventh streak of five or more victories since 2003.
Each of the five victories came against AFC opponents, including two over teams – Pittsburgh and New England – very much in the AFC playoff chase.
All five victories have come by six points or less – 18-15 at home over New England, 24-20 at Pittsburgh, 33-27 at home over Houston, 23-20 at San Diego and 10-6 Sunday – with Indianapolis rallying from deficits in each game.
"I look at us and San Diego (4-8) and maybe Houston (4-7) and Jacksonville (4-7)," Dungy said. "The difference between 8-4 and 5-7 is not all that much difference. You have to have some guys who can make game-changing plays, but you have to know that that's the way games are going to be.
"You can't relax. You don't know which play it's going to be. You have to play them all out, and fortunately our guys do that."
The Colts trailed in the second half in each game of the streak except San Diego. In that game, they squandered a 10-point second half lead before kicker Adam Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal on the game's final play.
Never before in Dungy's seven seasons with the team has it won five consecutive games by less than a touchdown.
"It's a little different – a little unusual for us to play the games like that," Dungy said. "A couple of times we've had the lead and lost it, but other times we've just had to claw our way back and continue to play through the fourth quarter even when things didn't look like they were going so well.
"I think what it says is we've got some veteran guys on offense who can move the ball when we need to, and we're able to keep our poise in those situations. I think we have a team that's going to fight to the end no matter what."
The Colts enter the season's final four weeks seeded fifth in the AFC, holding the spot over the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) because of a superior conference record and because of a 31-3 victory over Baltimore in early October.
Tennessee (11-1), Pittsburgh (9-3) and the New York Jets (8-4) lead the AFC South, North and East, respectively, with Denver (7-5) leading the West. There are currently eight teams in the AFC with records of 7-5 or better, with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins also at 7-5 in the East.
The four division winners from each conference make the playoffs along with two wild-card teams – the teams with the two best records among non-division winners.
The Colts will play host to Cincinnati (1-10-1) and Detroit (0-12) the next two weeks before a game at Jacksonville (4-7) on Thursday, December 15. They will finish the season with a home game against South-leading Tennessee (11-1).
"We're definitely happy to get through that and looking forward to December and getting into this stretch run," Dungy said. "It's a good feeling to have put together a five-game winning streak and to have things in our own hands in terms of making the playoffs.
"But we'll have to play better than that.
On Sunday, the Colts won despite producing just 215 total yards and 14 first downs. They also committed three turnovers, and were stopped on 4th-and-1 from the Cleveland 1 in the final minute of the first half.
They converted 5 of 10 third downs, but failed to convert on two 3rd-and-1s – once on the goal line at the end of the first half and once in the fourth quarter with a chance to secure the victory.
But although Dungy said the Colts were far from perfect against the Browns, he said the narrow margin of victory concerned him less than the missed opportunities. And he said although the victories have been narrower in past few weeks than in the winning streaks of previous seasons, what was most important about November wasn't the margin but what the team accomplished.
"I look at every game how we played," Dungy said. "We played the Browns a 13-6 game (in 2005) in the middle of our 13-game winning streak. They played us closer than anybody in that stretch, so it's not, 'Hey, you should beat this team by X number of points.' It's how you play that particular opponent that day.
"We've gone into some tough places (in November) and got some close wins. Those wins look pretty good right now."