Preparing for Playoffs After Long Regular Season A Good Place to Be, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Tony Dungy saw it, Monday was a good day. Very good.
Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, spent part of Monday reviewing a ninth victory in as many games, and much of the rest of it beginning preparations for the Colts' seventh postseason appearance in as many seasons.
The Colts, after a 3-4 start, will open the playoffs in prime time Saturday.
All in all, Dungy said, there are worse scenarios.
"It's always nice to be here on the Monday after the regular season talking about the playoffs," Dungy said as the Colts (12-4) began preparing to play the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers (8-8) in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., Saturday at 8 p.m.
"It's an exciting time for us. We're happy to be in and we're looking forward to the challenge of going to San Diego. They're playing extremely hot right now.
"They've played well down the stretch."
The same is true of each team, with the Colts entering the postseason with an NFL-best nine-game winning streak to qualify for the postseason as the No. 5 seed and the Chargers winning their last four games to win a third consecutive AFC West title.
The Colts, who won the last five AFC South titles, fell one game short of a sixth, but beat the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans, 23-0, in the regular season finale Sunday. Indianapolis had clinched the No, 5 seed in the AFC playoffs the previous week.
The Chargers, who played in the AFC Championship Game last year, beat the Denver Broncos, 52-21, on Sunday night to become the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after being 4-8. They also became the first team since 1985 to win a division with an 8-8 record.
"They're playing extremely hot right now," Dungy said of the Chargers during his weekly next-day news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "We've been watching a lot of tape (Monday) morning. They've played well down the stretch. They were very much like us, where it was kind of must-win all the way through. . . .
"San Diego, I think, is just as dangerous as anybody in this tournament right now. They're seeded four, but they're certainly playing well."
San Diego, which lost three consecutive games to playoff teams in November – including a 23-20, last-play loss at home to Indianapolis – trailed the Broncos by three games with three remaining, but became the first team in NFL history to overcome such a deficit and win a division.
The Colts, for their part, won a series of critical games against AFC contenders, finishing the season 5-1 against playoff teams, including 4-1 against teams headed to the postseason from the AFC. During their nine-game winning streak, the Colts beat three of the teams that won divisions in the AFC – Pittsburgh (12-4), San Diego (8-8) and Tennessee (13-3) – as well as New England (11-5) and Houston (8-8).
The teams' streaks set up another matchup in what has become one of the AFC's top rivalries. The Colts and Chargers have played five times since 2004, with the Colts winning 34-31 in overtime in 2004 in Indianapolis before the Chargers won three consecutive games in the series – 26-17 in 2005, 23-21 in 2007 and 28-24 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game following the 2007 season.
The Colts beat the Chargers, 23-20, in San Diego on November 23 of this season. The Chargers rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in that game before Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal as time expired.
"It will be a test," Dungy said. "Most of the games we've had against them have been close, where a play here or there in the fourth quarter has determined it.
"We're going to do our best to get ready."
The Chargers rallied four times from three-point deficits to beat the Colts in the final game played in the RCA Dome this past January. That victory in the second round of the playoffs eliminated the Colts and sent the Chargers to their first AFC title game since 1994.
"I don't think it's motivation, but I think it's understanding how tough it's going to be," Dungy said. "We played these guys a lot. It almost seems like division games again. They're battle-tested. They've been in the hunt. They've been in the playoffs now several years.
"There are a lot of familiar faces. I think we'll understand the challenge in front of us. We'll know them very well. They know us very well. It should make for a good game.
"It's 'Win to keep playing.' "
And Dungy said that the Colts' opponent in that scenario is a familiar one comes as little surprise. After the Colts' last-play November victory, Dungy said as he left Qualcomm Stadium, he walked alongside Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates.
"We happened to be walking out of the tunnel together after the game," Dungy said. "I said, 'I just have a feeling we're going to see you guys again.' They thought so, too. They felt like they could win and keep the pressure on Denver."