Colts Will Play Host to AFC Championship Game Sunday at 3 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts couldn't be in a better position.
Jim Caldwell, in his first season as the Colts' head coach, said he knows that playing at home in the AFC Championship Game is the goal of every team in the conference throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. The Colts have achieved that goal.
But Caldwell said something else is equally true, and he emphasized it Sunday:
Playing at home is great.
But it assures the Colts of nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"It doesn't give you any guarantees," Caldwell said a day after the Colts advanced to a third AFC Championship Game in seven seasons with a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Saturday.
"It really doesn't. When we made our march before (following the 2006 season), we had to go to visiting stadiums and had to forge our way through. It doesn't give you any guarantees."
The Colts will play host to either the San Diego Chargers or New York Jets Sunday at 3 p.m. It will be the second time since the team's 1984 move to Indianapolis they have played host to the title game. They beat the New England Patriots, 38-34, in the title game following the 2006 regular season en route to winning the Super Bowl.
It will be the fourth AFC title game appearance of the Indianapolis era. The Colts lost at Pittsburgh following the 1995 season and at New England following the 2003 season.
The Colts this season advanced to within a game of the Super Bowl with a convincing victory over a team that had beaten New England, 33-14, the week before.
The Ravens, who took a 24-0 lead in Foxboro the previous Sunday, then held on by rushing for 234 yards on 52 carries, rushed for just 87 yards on 19 carries Saturday, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 20 of 35 passes for 189 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
The Colts forced four turnovers, including three by the defense in the fourth quarter.
Caldwell late Saturday night called it "a heck of a performance" and said Sunday it was without question the performance of a team that looked fresh entering the postseason.
That sort of freshness, Caldwell said, was a priority entering the regular season, and – after the Colts clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with three games remaining in the regular season – became a priority entering the post-season.
"That was obviously the intent," he said.
Caldwell said he first addressed the imance of being fresh on March 16, his first meeting with the team entering the offseason conditioning program.
"I told them then, at that point in time, we were going to enter the regular season fresh, hungry and well-prepared," Caldwell said Sunday during his weekly next-day press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Those are the three things I promised them we would be that first game – those types of characteristics. I believe we did. Going into the second season, that was one of our goals as well. Guys understand our vision for that. I really believe that speed, particularly this time of year, when maybe you can gain a step or two.
"I'd rather lack a little bit of preparation and pick up a step or two in speed, because you can make up for a mistake or two here or there."
The Colts before Saturday had lost four consecutive AFC Divisional Playoff games after having a first-round post-season bye. They lost in 1987 to Cleveland, and in 1999, 2005 and 2007, they lost at home to Tennessee, Pittsburgh and San Diego, respectively, after having a first-round bye.
The Pittsburgh loss in 2005 was the only time during the Indianapolis era before this season that the Colts had entered the postseason as the AFC's No. 1 seed. The 2003 New England Patriots were the last No. 1 seed from either conference to with the Super Bowl.
"None of those things play a part in the ballgame itself," Caldwell said. "None of the conjecture or hypothetical situations we can all think of or past history really matters between those white lines. That's what we try to get our guys to focus in on: what can we control.
"We can't control what people write. We can't control how people think. We can't control the statistics of the past. We can't control any of that. What we can control is how we play – how we approach this game, how we prepare for the game. That's what I try to do: I try to narrow their focus.
"I try to reduce things to the lowest common denominator. What's most important? That's what we get at. All of the other stuff, most of the time, I don't entertain it."
Caldwell said as of late Sunday morning, the sole focus was not on peripheries, but on preparation for Sunday. He said on Sunday morning, there was focus on both the Jets and Chargers, with focus turning to the winner immediately after the game.
And Caldwell said while the Colts earned that game being at home, having done so means nothing going forward.
"I'm not certain, but I don't think there's a better position to be in," Caldwell said. "You can tell me if there is, but that's what we strive for. It's very difficult to reach. There's no question about that, but all in all, it still doesn't give you any guarantees.
"You still have to show up. You still have to play well. You know your opponent is going to be equally as good and equally as well-prepared."