Lack of Crucial Plays at Crucial Times Costly Against Tennessee, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – From the night before, little changed.
Tony Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said when he reviewed the tape from a double-digit loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night, there were some positives to be seen early.
The Colts had energy, Dungy said. They played with enthusiasm.
And at times, they made big plays.
But when it came to the fourth quarter, Dungy said the Titans made critical plays while Indianapolis did not. And Dungy said that's why the Colts will prepare for a prime-time nationally-televised game against the New England Patriots Sunday in an unfamiliar position:
A game under .500 entering November . . .
And four games behind in the AFC South.
"I thought we played with a lot of energy and emotion and played very hard," Dungy said Tuesday, a day after the Colts (3-4) squandered an eight-point second-half lead in a 31-21 loss to the Titans (7-0) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
"It was the type of atmosphere where you were going to have to do that, but when the game got to the point where you had to win it, we didn't play well enough. We didn't really stop them in the second half defensively, and had some chances we didn't convert offensively.
"They outplayed us down the stretch where it was crunch time. That was disappointing."
The victory moved the Titans – the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team – four games ahead of the Colts, Jacksonville and Houston, the latter three of whom are in a three-way tie for second place. Tennessee also has a 3-0 record in the division.
The Jaguars are 2-1 in the South, the Colts are 1-2 and the Texans are 0-3.
The Colts – a playoff team the last six seasons and the AFC South champions the last five –currently are tied with Jacksonville, Houston, Miami and Cleveland for the eighth-best record in the conference.
The four division winners qualify for the postseason, along with two wild-card teams.
"There's still a long way to go," Dungy said. "We're at the halfway point. There are a lot of teams in there in that three-, four-win area right where we are. We're going to start playing a lot of those guys as we come on.
"We have to get a home win and you can't get a winning streak until you get the first one."
The Colts, who haven't been under .500 in October since 2001 – the season before Dungy arrived as coach – will play host to the Patriots on Sunday night. The Patriots (5-2) are tied for the lead in the AFC East after a 23-16 victory over St. Louis Sunday.
Dungy, speaking at his weekly next-day news conference on Tuesday, spoke of the challenge of a short week. Colts players had Tuesday off, and will return to practice Wednesday to begin full-scale preparation for the Patriots.
The players won't practice in pads this week, Dungy said, instead focusing on mental preparation.
"We'll have to go back and go to work on fundamentally playing well and making those things happen in the crucial situations," Dungy said.
Dungy on Tuesday spoke extensively of the frustration of repeated mental mistakes and inconsistency that have hampered the Colts at times this season. The Colts, after committing 23 penalties in a two-week span against Baltimore and Green Bay, committed just five on Sunday, but two came during a critical third-quarter Tennessee drive.
On the drive, the Colts were penalized for an illegal contact penalty that gave Tennessee a 1st-and-10 at its 42 after an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-4 from the Titans 47.
Five plays later, safety Melvin Bullitt was penalized 15 yards for pass interference on 2nd-and-8 from the Colts 33.
Six plays later, Titans running back LenDale White's 1-yard run and an ensuing two-point conversion tied it, 14-14. The Titans scored on their next three possessions to pull away and take control of a division the Colts have controlled for the last five seasons.
The Titans, after converting two of seven third downs in the first half, converted five of six in the second half, and held a time-of-possession advantage of 17:09-12:51.
"I really don't know why," Dungy said. "It's a lot of the same guys in the same situations, and we continue to have a lot of untimely penalties, a lot of situations where doing things a little bit sharper is going to make the difference. We've had it offensively and defensively, and to be honest I really don't know why.
"The only thing I know is we have to continue to practice and work and see if we can get those cleared up, see if we can execute when the game's on the line."
In Dungy's previous six seasons with the Colts, they typically have qualified for the playoffs after fast starts. They never have been two games under .500, and to avoid that Sunday, Dungy said the same things are necessary as have been necessary all season: more consistency, fewer mistakes and better execution at the game's critical times.
On Tuesday, Dungy was asked – considering the short week and the unfamiliar circumstances – how he would change the mood of the team in a brief period.
He said the process was simple, but it's not one that can be done with words.
"I think you change the mood by winning," Dungy said. "In order to do that, you just really have to avoid beating yourselves and be able to play sharp. This (Tuesday) will be a tough day for our team today, but tomorrow (Wednesday) at 9 o'clock when they come in, I think they'll be ready.
"They'll know the challenge we have with New England, another national TV game, and a game we really need to win. That mood will be good by Wednesday."