INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have reached the season's mid-point in a position that is very difficult, and different.
By going without a victory through the first half of 2011, Indianapolis is looking at its first non-winning season since 2001.
The players have battled gamely through the first eight outings, but victory has eluded the squad each week. Each player and coach knows the NFL is a bottom line business that is measured visibly each week. The fighting spirit of the players is intact, and they hope to correct the ways of the first half of the season.
Past successes do not matter. The only thing that does, according to center Jeff Saturday, is the next eight games. The 13-year veteran is ready to attack.
"Every season, I look at it as an independent thing. This year's one in itself," said Saturday. "Obviously, we're not playing as well as we need to to get wins. When you haven't won a game all season, what happened 10 years ago really doesn't make any difference. I don't really look on those years. Every year is its own entity, and this year's not good so far. Every year has to be its own, and this one hasn't been a good one."
Saturday has been a vital part of many successes for the franchise. He has seen seasons of continuity and accomplishment. He has seen others that involved struggle.
One distinct reality of this season is injury and re-adjustments. Indianapolis has been banged up along the offensive front through most of the season. Sunday in Tennessee, the club opened with its fifth different starting alignment along the line. Saturday has noticed.
"We've had our fair share of injuries up front, that's for sure, (with) guys going down and being hurt," said Saturday. "It's interesting, none of them (injuries) have been year-long type things, they're weeks at a time. It's tough to know who's coming in, who's not, who's going to be healthy that week. It's just one of those things. Obviously, we need guys to get as healthy as they can as quickly as they can and get back to it."
The line battled at Tennessee while having some new faces. Saturday was flanked by two players who were making their first career starts. To his left was Seth Olsen. To his right was Mike Tepper. Quinn Ojinnaka opened at right tackle before leaving the game. Veteran Michael Toudouze returned to the playing field for the first time this year. Jeff Linkenbach, who opened the season at right tackle but moved to the left side four weeks ago, is the only lineman in addition to Saturday to open every game.
The unit battled some inconsistency at Tennessee that Saturday knows must get corrected. The play came after another solid week of preparation, something the club has had all season.
"I haven't watched (film) and got all the info on it," said Saturday. "I felt we played hard. We ran the ball fairly well. In the beginning, it wasn't what I wanted. I think we made some errors, got some penalties (and) turned it over a couple of times, offensively. It's tough to give a team an advantage like that, give them a short field or giving them an extra possession.
"We're making mistakes. You can go back and watch it. Week in and week out is when the game's on the line, or during different phases of the game we're making mistakes. Like I said, turning it over twice yesterday, getting penalties when you're already backed up (really hurt). We had a couple of holding calls that set us back. Those kinds of things are tough to overcome anyway but when you haven't been winning games and teams take advantage of it, it kind of just snowballs on you. I think guys are playing hard. In practice, they're showing up and doing what we have to do. We have to carry it over and execute on Sundays."
After four straight weeks where the outcome of games has hung in the balance before being decided late, the last two setbacks have come by larger margins. Still, Indianapolis is not far from achieving its game-day objective, and correcting small mistakes can make a big difference.
"A win cures so many ills," said Saturday. "You can have the exact, same errors and come back and win that game and you'd forget about most of them (mistakes). Even when you win games, they're not perfect. There's a lot of mistakes you make the other team could have taken advantage of that (they) sometimes don't. When you lose, everything is magnified. That's the way of the game. That's the way of the NFL. You get a couple of wins, all the sudden those mistakes aren't as glaring as they are right now."
Indianapolis has finished a stretch of three straight road games against teams with winning records. Tennessee is 4-3 and trails 5-3 Houston by a narrow margin in the AFC South race. Indianapolis fell at Cincinnati three weeks ago, and the 5-2 Bengals trail only 6-2 Pittsburgh in the AFC North. New Orleans is 5-3 in the NFC South and is one game ahead of both Tampa Bay and Atlanta, who stand at 4-3. Indianapolis entertains Atlanta this Sunday.
Saturday is like every one of his teammates who looks forward to a friendly environment this weekend at home.
"It's always nice to have your home crowd, especially when you're struggling," said Saturday. "Offensively, we'd like to get our crowd involved, get them excited and play off that momentum and feed off it. It will be good to be back at Lucas Oil (Stadium). Man, I look forward to seeing some smiling faces and good fans."
When kidded about if he doubted the fans' support this coming weekend, Saturday was firm in his belief of the loyalty of Colts fans.
"We have great fans here. They want us to win," said Saturday. "I fully understand that. We've never had a crowd that hasn't been 'pro' Colts and hasn't supported us fully. I love our fans. I respect the heck out of them. They want to see good football. Hopefully, we show it to them on Sunday."