Facing Three-Game Deficit in Division, Dungy Says Winning Remains the Focus
INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy knows the chance is slim.
But as long as there is a chance, Dungy – in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach – said the team will continue to strive for the division title.
And at the least, Dungy said the Colts will do what they can to make Tennessee earn it.
The Colts (8-4), a playoff team the past six seasons and the five-time defending AFC South champions, have trailed the Titans (11-1) throughout the season, and entering the weekend, they remain three games behind the team with the best record in the NFL.
Tennessee can clinch its first division title since 2002 with a victory in any of its remaining games.
The Titans play host to Cleveland (4-8) Sunday.
"As long as we have a chance, we'll focus in," Dungy said Thursday afternoon as the Colts prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (1-10-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"That has been one of our thought processes, 'Just keep winning to make them continue to win.' If they do, there's nothing we can do about it at this point other than really zero in on where we are. We'll keep hope alive for another week, but we have to win, obviously."
The four division winners in each conference qualify for the postseason as the Nos. 1-4 seeds, with the two non-division winners with the best records in each conference making it as the Nos. 5-6 seeds.
The Colts, winners of the last five games, hold the AFC's fifth seed over the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) of the AFC North because of a superior conference record and a victory over Baltimore in October. Tennessee (11-1), Pittsburgh (9-3) and the New York Jets (8-4) lead the South, North and East, respectively, with Denver (7-5) leading the West.
Eight AFC teams have records of 7-5 or better, with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins also 7-5 in the East. The Colts also hold a tiebreaker advantage over New England because of an 18-15 victory over the Patriots in November.
"We're in the mode that we have to win every week," Dungy said. "We have to stay ahead of these other teams that we have the tiebreakers on, so for us, it's not quite like a playoff game, but they're all games we have to win."
Also on Thursday, the Colts released their second injury reof the week, with safety Antoine Bethea (not injury related-rested), middle linebacker Gary Brackett (fibula), defensive tackle Keyunta Dawson (hamstring), linebacker Tyjuan Hagler (knee), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (not injury related-illness), safety Bob Sanders (knee) and center Jeff Saturday (calf) listed as not participating in practice.
Hagler, who left Sunday's victory over Cleveland with a knee injury, "is looking doubtful," Dungy said.
"He wants to play," Dungy said. "He wants to go. He ran, in his words, 'just OK,' so we'll see how he comes off of that. I think we'll know tomorrow. If he's able to practice tomorrow, there's a good chance he'll play, if he can't practice tomorrow, we'll probably hold him out."
Sanders, who has missed the last three games, said he doesn't know his status for Sunday's game.
"It depends on the coaches, what they want to do," Sanders said. "I feel I can play. I want to play, but you have to listen to your injury. You can't let just you wanting to play push you to do something that's not right.
"I'm excited about being here, and being able to think about coming back this year and not fully being out."
Also, the Colts have awarded game balls for the victory over Cleveland this past Sunday to defensive end Robert Mathis (defense) and defensive end Marcus Howard (special teams).