Colts Control Destiny Entering Last Five Games of Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Now is not necessarily the time for talk.
As Peyton Manning, the Colts' 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback, sees it, what's imant in the wake of three losses in four games aren't speeches and locker-room chatter, but finding real ways to improve and solid ways to play better.
Speeches and conversation are fine, Manning said.
They're just not critical moving forward.
"There are a lot of guys, probably, that aren't too experienced with the situation we're in," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (6-5) prepared to play the Dallas Cowboys (3-8) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"I think sometimes there's not a whole lot to say at this point."
The Colts, who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, have lost back-to-back games – to New England (9-2) and San Diego (6-5) – and remain in first place in the division. They are in a two-way tie with Jacksonville (6-5), which won three consecutive games before a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants Sunday.
The Jaguars on Sunday will visit Tennessee (5-6), which enters the weekend in a third-place tie with Houston (5-6). The Texans visit Philadelphia Thursday.
"We're fortunate, but we still control our own destiny," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "It's how you look at opportunities. We have a great one ahead of us. Our task is to take advantage of it."
The Colts, who won AFC South titles by leading the division from start to finish in 2003, 2005-07 and last season, won it in 2004 by winning eight consecutive games following a 4-3 start. They started those seasons 5-0 or better and their worst record in any of those seasons was 8-3.
They also made the playoffs as a wild card entrant in 2002 and 2008 after starting those seasons 7-4.
"As an old coach used to say, 'It's continuing to saw wood, to keep working,'' Manning said. "Everybody has to try to do their job a little bit, and I need to do my job a little bit better.
"Everybody just needs to try to do something better and hope it translate to the field."
Said Caldwell, "We talk often that it doesn't have to be anything extraordinary, 'Just do your job and don't really worry about anyone else's.' Sometimes less is more."
The Colts after Sunday have three games remaining in the division. They will visit the Titans next Thursday, followed by a home game against Jacksonville. They then visit the Oakland Raiders before finishing the regular season with a home game against Tennessee.
"I do think we are truly in a one-game-at-a-time season," Manning said. "That's our approach with five games left. We feel fortunate to be in the mix in our division. Other teams in our division have had up and down seasons like we've had.
"We have to take care of the Colts. That starts with Dallas on Sunday."
The Colts this season have placed multiple players on injured reserve, a list that includes Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and safety Melvin Bullitt.
They have played without various other starters at different points in the season, and in a 36-14 loss to San Diego this past Sunday played without running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, wide receiver Austin Collie, tight end Brody Eldridge, cornerback Justin Tryon and safety Bob Sanders.
Caldwell said Tryon could be available Sunday as a kickoff returner.
"It looks like he'll be the guy," Caldwell said of Tryon.
Sanders, who has been out since Week 1 with a biceps injury, has been ruled out this week, and no timetable has been set for the return of Collie and Addai. Colts President Bill Polian, who Monday compared the injury situation to a rubber band reaching a snapping point, said Hart and Brackett could return Sunday. No matter the personnel, Manning is ready for the challenge.
"With the guys who are playing, you have to go out there and find a way to do it. It's going to be difficult," he said. "It's going to take hard work. It may not be as smooth or easy as it may have looked in the past – it's never been easy, but it may have looked easy in the past – but it's a matter of continuing to work and kind of keeping the faith."
The Colts have scored 44 points during the last two games, and while they rank fifth in the NFL in overall offense and first in passing offense, Manning said, "It's a matter of finding some consistency."
"That's what we're shooting for – not to have a good drive here and a good drive there," Manning said. "That's the challenge. You have to be careful saying, 'It's possible because you do it on one series.' The real key is, 'Can you do it drive after drive – first half, second half?'
"That's what you have to be able to do to win. We have to find a way to do that. Hopefully, we can get that established this week."
And Manning said one thing he knows for certain is that the way to get that established has little to with mid-week talk or pre-game chatter.
"I don't think there's really a speech or pep talk at this point," Manning said. "I think it's a matter of everybody trying to improve their craft and hopefully that, as a group, has an effect in better overall play on the field.
"I do think just because you say, 'Well, we'll play better next week' – that doesn't really do it. You have to go out there and practice better in order to play better.
"Hopefully, we can translate good work on the practice field to the playing field."