All Goals Attainable Entering Season's Second Half, Caldwell Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell's message to Colts players Wednesday was simple.
Caldwell, in his second season as the Colts' head coach, said when the team gathered Wednesday to begin preparing for Sunday's home game against Cincinnati, there were imant concepts he wanted understood:
One was that one loss does not a season make. Another?
Three victories in four games isn't bad.
And Caldwell said while the Colts very much wanted to win in Philadelphia Sunday, that they didn't only means one thing: They're still in for a fight in the second half of the season.
And around the NFL, that's pretty normal.
"We kind of take it quarter by quarter," Caldwell said Wednesday as the Colts (5-3) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (2-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We break it down and take a look at where we are. We were 2-2 after the first quarter. We were 3-1 in the second quarter. That's close to where we'd like to be. I think there was one team in the National Football League that had a better record than we had in the second quarter. That was the (New York Giants). They were 4-0.
"There were a lot of teams at 3-1. I talked to the team a little about ii this morning, 'This is where we are. Let's take a look at it.''
Where the Colts are at the season's midway point is tied for first in the AFC South.
And as Caldwell told the team Wednesday, they made it there with a solid second quarter in which they overcame a slew of injuries and difficult circumstances.
The Colts, after splitting the first four games of the season, beat Kansas City, Washington and Houston to start the second quarter before a 26-24 loss at Philadelphia Sunday. The three victories in four games pushed the Colts into a first-place tie in the AFC South with Tennessee (5-3).
Houston (4-4) and Jacksonville (4-4) are tied a game behind, with the two teams playing in Jacksonville Sunday. Tennessee will visit Miami Sunday.
"There are still some great opportunities there," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has led the Colts to six of the past seven division titles. "We feel like, though, we need to improve in the second half of the season. We still kind of break it down by quarters. We feel like we do need to make improvement."
The Colts, who have won 12 or more games an NFL-record seven consecutive seasons, built that run of success in part upon solid starts. They began five of those seven seasons with records of at least 5-0 – 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006, 7-0 in 2007 and 14-0 last season – and won the AFC South each of those seasons.
But Caldwell said the reality is such starts are not common. Anything but.
"This is the norm," Caldwell said. "The norm is not 8-0. That's highly unusual, in that sense. I try to draw two parallels: No. 1, is it's such a fine line between winning and losing. It's a couple of plays here and there. Even when we were going through a stretch where we were winning a number of games in a row, I would always try to remind them, 'Take a look. If this had happened in this situation, that very easily could have been a loss.' That's how you get them to focus in on the details.
"Those things make a difference in the long term. . . .You see teams all across the board going through the things we're going through."
The Colts, who recently placed tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez on injured reserve, also played the Eagles without running back Joseph Addai, outside linebacker Clint Session, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, running back Mike Hart and cornerback Jerraud Powers.
While Powers returned to practice Wednesday, the Colts announced on Tuesday that safety Bob Sanders and wide receiver Austin Collie won't play against Cincinnati, with Collie being ruled out after sustaining a concussion against the Eagles.
"We have some new guys playing," Manning said. "That's one thing about football. Other sports, you're playing a game every night. Football, you have a week in between. There should be a chance to improve with some newer guys that are playing.
"We'll have some newer guys this week as well. The key is using that time between games to improve, work on your weaknesses and hopefully, we can be playing our best football out here late in the season."
And Caldwell said that was the biggest reason for his message to the team – that not only does one loss not make a season, but that November and December are the most important months.
Now, Caldwell said, that time is at hand.
"Oftentimes, when you have a loss, it clouds everything," Caldwell said. "But the fact of the matter is, even through some difficult times and things that we've had to do in terms of adjusting our practice and so on and so forth, we were still able to patch it together and win three ballgames in that quarter.
"Now, we're going into the start of the third quarter. We're going in the exact same way. We're trying to focus in on one game at a time, then we'll add them up at the end of the quarter. We still have all of our goals in front of us.
"We still have an opportunity. We plan to make the most of it."