Focus Must Be The Same No Matter the Opponent, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – The tape tells the story – always does, and does now, too.
And as far as Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning is concerned, the Colts really need consider nothing else as they prepare for their third road game in four weeks.
Not the record of their opponent.
Not their own playoff positioning.
And not even how many consecutive games the Colts have won.
All of that is either in the past, or something on paper, and as Manning – a Pro Bowl selection six of the past eight seasons – sees it, the Colts haven't done what they have done the past month by focusing upon such things.
Their focus has been the opponent – that week's opponent.
And Manning said that approach must continue.
"It's very much like last week," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (7-4) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"All you have to do is look at the film and see a really good defense. You see a team that I don't think their record is indicative of what kind of team they have."
Manning said the same was true last week, when the Colts were preparing to play San Diego, the defending AFC West champions and a team with a 4-6 record. The Colts won to maintain their playoff positioning, but needed a 51-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri on the game's final play.
The task this week isn't much different, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy.
And it likely won't be easier.
"That's what we're anticipating, a team that's going to play their best," Dungy said. "They (the Browns) have some weaponry, some things we have to really improve on from the San Diego game if we're going to come out of there with a win."
The Colts enter the season's final five weeks seeded fifth in the AFC, having ascended to that spot with victories in their last four games after two consecutive losses dropped them to 3-4 – the first time in a decade they had been under .500 so late in the season.
And while the Colts hold the No. 5 spot in a system in which six teams – four division winners and two wild-card teams – qualify for the playoffs, their positioning is far from secure.
"We're really not talking as much about what we've done the last few weeks as this game ahead of us," Manning said. "The most imant game is the next one. It's the Cleveland Browns and that's all we're thinking about.
"I feel like we're playing with a sense of urgency. We certainly did not get off to a good start this season. We've kind of been playing catch-up the entire time. Every game has been close these past few weeks and we expect another close game this week.
"You hope we can do some of the same things we've been doing."
They trail the Tennessee Titans (10-1) in the AFC South by three games with five remaining, and hold the fifth seed over Baltimore (second in AFC North, 7-4) and New England (second in AFC East, 7-4) because of a superior conference record and because of head-to-head victories over each team.
Pittsburgh (8-3) and the New York Jets (8-3) lead the AFC South, North and East, respectively, with Denver (6-5) leading the West. There are currently nine teams in the AFC with records of 6-5 or better, with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins also at 6-5 in the East.
The Colts' recent run of victories were not only crucial to the playoff positioning, they came in dramatic fashion, with the Colts rallying in each game to win games decided in the fourth quarter – 18-15 over New England, 24-20 at Pittsburgh, 33-27 over Houston and 23-20 this past Sunday at San Diego.
Entering that stretch, Dungy said he emphasized to the players that the games would be critical not only because the Colts needed victories, but because many would be played against teams with whom the team would be competing for playoff positioning.
The Colts' coming stretch has a bit of different feel, with the combined records of the next four opponents – Cleveland (4-7), Detroit (0-11), Cincinnati (1-9-1) and Jacksonville (4-7) – having a combined record of 9-34-1.
But no matter the record, Dungy said the approach is the same.
"That's what we try to do in every one of these games . . . look at the team and really evaluate them," Dungy said. "Not really look at the perception of the team and where they were in the race, but the things we had to do win that game and the things that were going to be tough. We did that with all of those guys and we're doing the same thing with Cleveland.
"You look at their Pro Bowl guys, and guys that they have in certain spots that give you trouble – – if our guys just watch the tape, they'll have an understanding of what we're dealing with."
The Browns, after an 0-3 start, split their last eight games, a stretch that included a victory over 6-5 Buffalo (29-27) and a 23-17 victory at 4-7 Jacksonville, as well as a 35-14 victory over the New York Giants (10-1), the defending Super Bowl champions.
"They beat the Giants, the Giants' only loss," Manning said. "You see their cutups and see the things they do. They're capable of doing a lot of different things defensively. They play different schemes and have good playmakers. They have a tough front. They have a tough defense to move the ball against.
"When you get to this point, you're not looking at records. You're looking at who you're playing, what they do well. They have good playmakers on defense and an explosive offense, so we know we need to score some points. That's kind of all we look at."