INDIANAPOLIS – From 2004 to 2009, the Colts set an NFL record by winning at least seven consecutive games in six consecutive seasons.
While some of those streaks started a season, some came in the midst of adversity.
In 2004, the Colts dropped a 45-35 game at Kansas City, yielding 590 net yards, 31 first-half points, 203 rushing yards and a long punt return. The setback left the team at 4-3, but club leaders fortified the situation by stressing hard work and attention to detail. Indianapolis responded with eight straight wins.
In 2008, the club dropped consecutive road games by double digits and stood at 3-4. The schedule ahead held five teams that eventually would win eight or more games. Three of those teams would win 11 or more games. Two of those three opponents eventually won division crowns, while the other missed the post-season after amassing 11 victories. Prospects could have been bleak, but the Colts responded. The team did not look at anything but the next opponent and won its last nine outings.
Success on that scale in those two instances did not come by extraordinary means, nor was it ever accomplished that way in any of those six seasons with seven or more straight wins.
No team ever focuses on building long winning streaks. Streaks like that come one step at time and by performing the ordinary very, very well.
The Colts are looking to end a 0-2 start to the season with a victory Sunday over Pittsburgh.
The team embraces the need for performing the basics well. It showed marked improvement from week one to week two, and the key for a different result this Sunday lies in performing the ordinary.
"There are no magic formulas. There are no plays you can dredge up out of the playbook that are going to change everything," said Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian. "It's just a matter of everybody getting better and taking six-inch steps and doing a better job. That's what occurred (last Sunday). We got better in a lot of areas, so just keep after it."
Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins directed four scoring drives that had 10 or more plays last Sunday against Cleveland, while another drive that yielded points had nine plays. Still, the club struggled in key moments by converting only four third-down opportunities. Collins was a part of a 10-0 start at Tennessee in 2008, and he knows the right approach to get something to function better during a game.
"I think execution is probably the biggest thing," said Collins. "My experience is the only way you get better at something is to put an emphasis on it during the week and try to correct the mistakes that seem to be holding you back in that area. We need to get better at staying on the field."
Safety Antoine Bethea was a 16-game starter in 2008 when the club had a 3-4 record before righting itself. Bethea is appreciative of how his career has gone in Indianapolis, and he knows the challenge for where the team is at the moment.
"It's a blessing to be here, and you can't take anything for granted," said Bethea. "It's a long year, and we still have 14 games left. We just have to put the pedal to the metal and just get better and keep working."
Head coach Jim Caldwell has served with the club through the long streaks and the difficult moments. Caldwell knows there are no instant solutions, shortcuts or magic pills. What serves as the best remedy is work – correcting the bad and improving the points that already are working.
"No, there's no such thing really," said Caldwell when asked if there were a quick fix. "It's really just takes hard work, and you just have to keep grinding away at it to try to get the proper mix that you need. I talked about, the other day with the team, a common analogy of just refining silver and what it takes. It takes a lot of intense heat, and a lot of times it's not pretty. After some point in time you keep skimming it because it keeps rising, and you get it to the point where you have a good solid product. That's what we are right now. We just keep skimming off the things that we're not doing well, and try to build upon the things we're doing positively."
Center Jeff Saturday knows the team will keep refining its methods while maintaining its approach and work ethic.
"From our standpoint, it's a long season," said Saturday. "We've got to keep working every week and we have to continue to get better. From week one to week two we definitely got better, and we have to get better from week two to week three. Keep growing on what we are doing well. Define our team for what it's going to be, and how we're going to find ways to win."
As far as work and improvement go, kicker Adam Vinatieri knows any success must come incrementally and by taking things only as they come.
"You take one play, one series, one quarter, one game at a time," said Vinatieri. "You continue to build on that. It starts with baby steps. That's the fun thing about this, no matter when we're winning or if we're 0-2 this year, we don't look into the future. We look one practice at a time, one game at a time. We try to make our way a week at a time."
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK:
Colts running back Joseph Addai has run well during the first two games this season, totaling 103 yards on 22 attempts for a 4.7 average. Addai also has six receptions for 50 yards, and he performs key work in protection when the club takes to the air.
Sunday will be another test for Addai and the club, and he is showing leadership for younger teammates. Addai keeps in touch with former Colts running back Edgerrin James, and James always has helped 'school' Addai in the ways of the game. Now, Addai is passing it along to rookie back Delone Carter.
"Just little keys, just little, little small keys that coaches may not cover with players," said Addai about the tips he provides. "As a coach you have to work with the group. Me, I can work on individual guys and kind of show them (things), as far as like Dominic (Rhodes) helped me out on small things like, 'Coaches may break it down to you this way, but I'm going to break it down simpler.' Those are small keys I'm giving to Delone (Carter) so when he goes out there he doesn't have to think as much. He can just go out there any play."
Addai has had slower starts to seasons in his career in terms of wins and losses, but it was pre-NFL. He is helping keep things in perspective as the Colts look for their first win on Sunday.
"The thing we've done well, as far as the mistakes, we know we can correct those," said Addai. "Some people have mistakes that you can't correct, and that's the hard part. I think our mistakes, we can really move from them and learn from them. As bad as it sounds, 0-2 that sounds bad, it's still early. Everybody in the locker room still has good spirit. All the coaches, all the staff, everybody is still headed the right direction. That's always a good thing, especially going into a Sunday night game against Pittsburgh. You want all the confidence that you can get.
"The only thing you can do is be positive. It's hard because human nature tells you to be sad and all that, but the greats kind of find a way to get through it. It's easy for us to kind of pack our bags and 'season's over,' but we worked too hard this off-season and we're working too hard year-round. The thing is just getting on the board, and doing what's right. That's what we've been doing."
As for the rushing game, Addai is pleased after two weeks.
"I like how we're starting off. I will say that, but it's a long season," he said. We're trying to be productive and get a spark going, all the running backs. Right now, we're happy with the direction we're going, but it's a long way to go."
COLTS QUOTE-UNQUOTE: Jim Caldwell(on any negative perceptions of 0-2 team from those outside the locker room) "Outside of our locker room, I cannot control any of that. That's going to happen, and, certainly, for various reasons. But what's happening within house is something that we look at as, 'We have 14 more games remaining.' We just have to look at this next as the most important game, and I think our guys reflect that and their focus is good. They've been around enough, and they've been in some tough situations. The young guys, we've got to keep counseling, and the older guys have to lead the way. I think they are doing a very good job of that right now." Caldwell(on his relationship with Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin) "We actually came to Tampa at exactly the same time and the same year, and I really got to know those guys pretty well. Alan Williams, Mike (Tomlin) and myself, I think we were the three new guys on staff that particular year, and we got along well. They're a bit younger than I am, obviously. Nevertheless, you could tell that he had all of the things that you look for in a quality head coach. He was very smart, certainly understood concepts and people extremely well, and was an excellent communicator. So we've been able to keep in touch over the years." Caldwell(on if he keeps up with Tomlin during the season) "Periodically. Often, we are fighting the same battles, so sometimes it's not too good to share every bit of information with someone that you have to compete against. But we talk once in a while." Joseph Addai(on enjoying prime-time games) "I'm not stupid as far as not understanding the magnitude of a prime-time game, but for our team we look at it as another game. You give the respect your opponent and bring your 'A' game. We understand as players what these games mean, but do we change anything? No, we really don't change. It's the same kind of question I get when I play Houston (his hometown team). Probably the first time when I was a rookie (it felt different). It's the same game. We play prime-time here Sunday, but we have another game next week. You know the different factors, but I think the great teams put that behind them. I look at it as another game, but I do understand the magnitude of the game." Addai(on acknowledging more people will be watching Sunday Night) "If there is a game you want to stand out, this is a game everybody is watching. To a certain extent, it's not the same as others, but you have to go about it (the same). If you make a mistake, a lot more people see the mistake. If you make something good happen, a lot more people see the good. I tell a rookie if he's coming in how to go about that game would be to go about it like every game – go hard and do what you have to (do) to help the team win." Addai(on the Pittsburgh defense) "They are known for their defense. When you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you think of defense. It's going to be a real big test for us. They have big guys, big, big, big guys. They have big guys everywhere. It's going to be challenge. We'll bring our 'big boy' pads to the show and do what we have to (do) to get a 'W.' Antoine Bethea(on never being 0-2 in NFL career) "It was a blessing coming here to the Colts. High school and college, I've been in this position before. You just have to keep it going. There were some nasty (seasons). You had to love the game of football to be able to (play). That's why I said it's a blessing. It's a blessing to be here, and you can't take anything for granted. It's a long year, and we still have 14 games left. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to put the pedal to the metal and just get better and keep working." Adam Vinatieri(on the team) "We have a ton of pride and a ton of guys who don't accept this and won't continue not to (accept it). We will continue to strive to get better." Vinatieri(on a national TV game and people watching to see how club performs) "This is a great challenge. It's a great challenge for us because Pittsburgh is a very, very good team. They've been a very good team for a lot of years. We know how good their defense is. We know how good of a quarterback (Ben) Roethlisberger is, and all of their talent. They've got a great running back (Rashard Mendenhall). We know they're a great team, so we know we're going to have to play well, too. It's a good place where (observers) can sit back and judge our team when the game's over. We're going to play a lot better than we've been playing, and we're going to make a lot of improvements." Vinatieri(on how people judge the team for seven days between games) "For sure, and you know what? The next week, they'll judge us again and the next week…That's the fun thing about this. You're continuously getting evaluated and critiqued, and that's why you have to continue to get better." Kerry Collins(on patience) "There's really not a lot of time to have patience. At the same time, we have to take the mentality that we're going to keep trying to get better. That gives us the best chance of turning this thing around. We don't have time, but the bottom line is that we just have to work in here every day and try to get better, learn from the things that we didn't do well and build on the things we do well." Collins(on his command of the offense) "I feel good. We did some no-huddle yesterday, which I felt completely comfortable with. I thought that went smoothly. Obviously, every time I go out there and every time I'm in practice I'm learning something new, and I'm open to that. I realize that, and I feel like I'm getting better and better all the time." Collins(on if he catches himself pressing) "No, I don't catch myself pressing, but that's what you have to guard against. When you press, you try to do too much and that's when it can hold you back. We just need to be open and willing to learn and know what we need to do to get better." Collins(on not having knee-jerk reactions) "I tend not to have knee-jerk reactions. I tend to try and guard against that. I think a lot of guys in this room have been in and around it long enough to know that, whether you're 2-0 or 0-2, it has nothing to do with what happens the next game. We take the mentality (that) we'll keep getting better. That's the best chance we have." Dwight Freeney(on being 0-2) "It's somewhat unfamiliar but I think one year we were 1-3, or something like that. So it's been a little worse as far as the loss column. You never want to be in this situation. We're going to hope that we get things corrected this week, so we don't have to wait another week to talk about 'this next week.' " Freeney(on Ben Roethlisberger) "Ben makes so many plays with his feet. When things break down for them as an offense, he does a great job, probably as good as or better than anyone I've seen. I mean he's up there, as far as making plays and buying time and being devastating to a defense. We understand a little bit of what they do and what he tries to do. We have to take 11 guys or maybe a couple of extra to hone things up. Freeney(on team handles 0-2 start) "0-2? When you have 14 more games, it's kind of ridiculous to write someone off in two games. You (people outside the team) can have an opinion. You can say, 'I don't think they will be good this year.' It's not a fact until it's a fact. I think that's what our mentality is around here. That's honestly how we think. The way we're trained around here is to have the mindset that, 'It's never as good as people say it is, or it's never as bad as people say it is, it's somewhere in the middle.' We believe that." Freeney(on being concerned with team's performance, not outside perceptions) "To be honest, I don't care what anybody thinks outside of this locker room. Now that being said, yes, this is an opportunity. One game doesn't decide that either. We could win this game, then the next game, lose. What does that mean? That one televised game doesn't (decide it). It's 14 games and you add them at the end. That's what it's going to take. We have to get some consistent football. This is the next challenge. This is the next step to doing so. It's very important to play well, nationally-televised or not."
FRIDAY STATUS REPORT
OUT – QB-Peyton Manning (neck), LB-Ernie Sims (knee)
QUESTIONABLE – LB-Gary Brackett (shoulder), S-Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), TE-Dallas Clark (foot), TE-Brody Eldridge (knee), OG-Ryan Diem (ankle), DT-Fili Moala (ankle), DE-Dwight Freeney (abdominal), QB-Kerry Collins (right shoulder), DT-Eric Foster (hamstring), DE-Robert Mathis (chest), TE-Jacob Tamme (concussion), WR-Blair White (back)