Colts One Victory From Ninth Consecutive Post-Season Appearance
INDIANAPOLIS – As Jim Caldwell put it, the denominator remains the same.
Caldwell, in his second season as the Colts' head coach, said while it is certainly imant to have won three consecutive games as season's end approaches, the reality is little is different for the Colts this week.
Each of the last three weeks, the Colts have needed to win.
They need to win Sunday, too.
"Our guys have done a great job of staying focused and not getting caught up in Scenario Central and trying to reduce things to the lowest common denominator," Caldwell said Monday, a day after the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders, 31-26, at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif.
"That lowest common denominator is we have to win. That's what we try to continue to focus on."
With the victory over the Raiders, the Colts' playoff scenario is as follows:
The Colts, who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, will win the division again if they beat or tie the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 4:15 p.m. They must beat or tie Tennessee to not only win the division, but to qualify for the post-season.
The Colts, who have won their last three games, moved a game ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday. But although the Colts now lead the division, the Jaguars would win the division if they beat the Houston Texans Sunday providing Indianapolis lost to Tennessee.
Indianapolis can secure the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a victory over the Titans if the Kansas City Chiefs lose to Oakland Sunday.
The Colts have made the playoffs an NFL-high eight consecutive seasons, one shy of the all-time NFL record for consecutive post-season appearances. Dallas made the post-season from 1975-1983.
The Colts beat the Titans, 30-28, in Nashville earlier this month.
"They're a bit more fresh in your mind, but also there are so many things that change just in terms of team dynamics in a couple of weeks," Caldwell said. "It's week to week sometimes in this league. It's day to day, actually. We're still going to have to go about it the same way in terms of our preparation."
The Titans were mathematically eliminated from the post-season with a 34-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday. They have lost seven of their last eight games after a 5-2 start.
"We still have to study them," Caldwell said. "We know for a fact they will be well-prepared. They'll play extremely hard. It's always been competitive games. That's just the way it is.
"It's a huge rivalry, year in and year out. I don't think that will ever change."
The Colts, who have spent much of the season ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing, rushed for 191 total yards Sunday and held the Raiders – the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense entering their game against the Colts – to 80 yards rushing.
Dominic Rhodes, who re-signed with the Colts early this month after playing in the UFL, rushed for 98 yards on 17 carries, including 83 yards on 13 second-half carries. Joseph Addai, out the last eight games with a neck injury, rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries and scored on a six-yard run in the first half.
Donald Brown, who rushed for 129 yards in a victory over Jacksonville last week, rushed for 28 yards on six carries.
"I think we can get a pretty good mix," Caldwell said. "It's great to have those guys available to us."
The Colts now have rushed for more than 150 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since the 2006 season.
"I thought all three guys had a pretty productive day," Caldwell said. "Dom certainly got things rolling pretty well and we just let him go a little bit with it. But overall, when you look at their performance, I think it was a great collective effort."
Caldwell also said continuity on the offensive line in recent weeks has played a role.
"We're not using any different plays," Caldwell said. "We're not doing anything different from a schematic standpoint. I do think we've gotten better week in and week out in terms of fundamentals and techniques. I think we're doing a better job controlling the line of scrimmage, and the guys up front are communicating very well.
"They've finally gotten to the point where you have roughly the same group that has played together for a fairly decent length of time. I think you're seeing the benefits of that."
Caldwell said, too, the Colts have benefited in recent weeks from something they long have displayed in late-season situations: a focused approach.
The Colts, following a 38-35 overtime loss to Dallas three weeks ago, entered the month in second place in December for just the third time since the 2002 inception of the AFC South. They also entered it knowing there was a very real chance they needed victories in each of their final four games to advance to the post-season.
Despite that, Caldwell said it has not been difficult for the Colts to focus on what needs to be focused upon.
"It's pretty easy not to (lose concentration)," Caldwell said. "There's a lot going on on that field. You have to stay focused on the task at hand. You cannot be affected by anything like that in terms of looking for other folks' help and other teams' help. That gets you a little distracted.
"You get distracted in this league, you're going to have some problems."