INDIANAPOLIS – In a season that has been tough for everyone in the Colts locker room to envision, the most experienced voice addressed the task at hand on Monday afternoon.
Center Jeff Saturday is finishing his 13th season with the Colts. With quarterback Peyton Manning on the active roster but not playing, Saturday is the most seasoned voice on the team among players who have toiled in 2011.
In a season of battling through the adversity, the team still has its mind set on one thing over the next three weeks. The only thing that matters now is what always has mattered – winning football games.
"Obviously, every time you go out you want to win," said Saturday. "It would be sure nice to get a win and be able to try to get something put together late in the season. (It would be) something to build on for the future and show guys around the locker room what it's like to win. Some of these guys haven't won, either any games or many games, if they are just (arriving) here. So we want to show guys, 'Hey, this is what our tradition is really about. This is what we're normally used to.' You've got to go out and execute and play better to get that done."
After going undrafted out of North Carolina in 1998, Saturday joined the Colts the following season. He has been one of the main cogs in the Colts' long run of success, and he knows the fans will be right there with them on Sunday against Tennessee.
"When your fans are with you, it definitely helps your defense when they're screaming, when the offense is trying to make changes and check plays," Saturday said. "Just (the) momentum of being at home always feels better. When things go good or go bad, either way, it just seems to help to have the crowd on your side.
"Our fans are as good as they get. We've had fans who have continually come out and supported us. Throughout the city, I see people all the time (who say), 'Hey we're still with you. We're still supporting you.' With our record the way it is that's tough to do, but these guys are doing it and we really appreciate it."
The 2011 season has been one unlike any other for Saturday, who has made the playoffs in all but one season with the Colts. Prior to this year, the last team he played for that did not make the playoffs was in 2001.
Since then, Saturday has started for nine consecutive Indianapolis teams that won 10 or more games, a streak now tied by New England this year as the second-longest in NFL history. The only franchise that posted a longer streak of seasons with 10 or more wins is San Francisco. The 49ers set the league mark by doing it in 16 consecutive seasons.
"I don't know how many years you have to put together to lose 13 games, but it's a bunch," said Saturday. "To lose 13 in one (season is tough), but we've got to play better. You watch the film and we got out-played by Baltimore. They took it to us. So that's what you get."
Saturday and his teammates know that three remaining games is a lot of action to attack. Players only get 16 chances a year to play the sport at its highest level. There are personal accomplishments that accompany team goals, and Saturday knows it is up to each member of the team to help author different finishes than the first 13 games have provided.
"It rests in our hands," said Saturday. "We've got to go out and play a team and put together four consistent quarters where we out-play a football team. We haven't done it yet, so hopefully we get it done on Sunday."
Perhaps the biggest hurdle Saturday has faced in 2011 is the amount of new faces he has seen week in and week out alongside him. He has started all 13 games at center this season and is the only member of the offensive line to have been in the same place all season long.
He has seen four different teammates make their NFL debuts on the unit this season, while another veteran, Quinn Ojinnaka, played with Indianapolis for the first of his career, too.
It has not been easy with so many players rotating in and out. Rookie offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo has been one of the new faces playing for Indianapolis, and protecting the quarterback's blindside in this league is a lot to handle for any first-year player.
"(Anthony) Castonzo's done well this year," said Saturday. "You just have to build on it. It's hard to come out and play left tackle in the NFL. Castonzo's a tough-minded guy and a good athlete. He'll be a good one for us."
The final three games of the season for the Colts are against AFC South foes. It will allow for a little familiarity to close out the season.
"Obviously being in the division with Tennessee we see them twice a year. It will be good to get a familiar opponent back at home," Saturday said. "Hopefully we can get a win. We just need to put together a consistent game of football where we're moving the football, running and passing, and give ourselves a chance to win a game."
The Colts have relied on their five-time Pro Bowl center to help handle one of the most youthful and injury-hit units, as well as working with three different starting quarterbacks. Head Coach Jim Caldwell values the savvy Saturday has provided.
"It's been exceptional, obviously, because we've just had so many guys that have not been able to go from week-to-week and to have a constant there in the middle, which is crucial, because he kind of sets the tone of everything that is happening in the middle," said Caldwell. "He identifies what is going on defensively and he sets our protections schemes as well. To have a guy that has the kind of experience that he has helps all of those guys around him, from tackle-to-tackle and our quarterback."