ONE GAME, ONE GOAL

The Colts have played tight, four-quarter games much of the season and particularly the past two weeks. Quarterback Peyton Manning said he expects that to be true Sunday against the Houston Texans, and as a result, players aren't thinking about much these days but finding ways to win.

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One Game at a Time Continues as Colts Midseason Motto, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Peyton Manning sees it, one thing matters these days.

Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, said Wednesday afternoon given the time of the season – and given the team's situation – that thing certainly has nothing to do with discussion, analysis or how the Colts are perceived by outsiders.

Momentum? Playoff positioning? Even a two-game winning streak? All are topics surrounding the Colts this week, but what Manning said what matters is continuing to win.

No matter how.

And, really, no matter by how much.

"Somebody asked me if I thought we were 'turning the corner,''' Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (5-4) prepared to play the Houston Texans (3-6) in an AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I think when you're 5-4 there really aren't any corners out there. We're truly in a one-game-at-a-time mode. It's what we've done the past couple of weeks. It's kind of been somewhat of our motto. We've had two good wins, two close wins.

"That (a close game) is what you'd expect again this week."

The Colts, after road losses at Green Bay and AFC South-leading Tennessee (9-0), have been "scratching and clawing" – as Manning put it this past Sunday – into the AFC playoff picture, rallying from second-half deficits to beat AFC division-leading New England and Pittsburgh the last two weeks.

The Colts, since a 1-2 start, have won four of their last six games, a stretch that began with a 31-27 victory in Houston on October 5. The Colts rallied from a 17-point deficit with 4:04 remaining in the first Houston game.

"Watching the film from the Pittsburgh game, then going back watching our last Houston game, I think we're a different team," said Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett, whose 68-yard return with a fumble was a key play in the first Houston-Colts game this season.

"I think we're a much more confident team. I think the (defensive) guys up front are doing a lot better playing in their gaps, playing a lot more aggressive in their games. I think coverage-wise, guys are dropping better off the quarterback. Early in that game, we were still young and still trying to find our identity.

"Now, I think guys are settling in a little more and really starting to play some good football."

The Colts, who started four of the last five seasons with at least five consecutive victories, are 5-4 for the first time since 2002, the last year they did not win the AFC South.

They won six of their last eight games that season to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card.

"The stride we've normally been in early in the season, we're finally reaching here in Week 10," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. "It's not ideal. We've dug ourselves a big hole. We have no choice but to get better. I think everyone knows the significance of each game now and kind of what they have to do.

"Everyone has to get better and keep improving. Don't become complacent with these last few wins. We just have to move forward and try to get better. I think if everyone has that attitude collectively, we'll get better as a team."

The Colts, who rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to beat the AFC North-leading Steelers, 24-20, for their first victory in Pittsburgh in four decades, the previous week had beaten AFC East-leading New England, 18-15, at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"There was a calm, but there was still a sense of urgency," Brackett said of the back-to-back victories. "We definitely knew we needed to win those next two games to stay in the race and get in the hunt. That's what we did. We put ourselves in the hunt, but we still have a long way to go.

"There's a lot of football left. We haven't clinched anything yet. Obviously, with Tennessee playing the way they are, it's going to be tough to clinch the division, so in order to get that wild card, we're going to have to continue to beat teams in the AFC."

The victories not only took the Colts from 3-4 to 5-4, they gave the Colts potential season-ending tiebreakers against not only Pittsburgh (6-3) and New England (6-3), but Baltimore (6-3), too. Indianapolis beat Baltimore, 31-3, in early October.

"The Baltimore game was the one game where we kind of got a big lead and stayed on them," Manning said. "It's going to be a four-quarter dogfight (Sunday). The past two weeks, we've made the plays in the fourth quarter and it resulted in a win. . . .

"They (the Texans) played well against us last time. Hopefully, we can just keep finding a way to win the game. That's all we're trying to do at this point."

The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team the past six seasons, trail Tennessee by four games in the South, but they remain a game behind Pittsburgh, New England, Baltimore and the Jets, who share the AFC's second-best record.

The Colts, New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Jets are among 10 AFC teams with between four-to-six victories with seven games remaining. The others: Buffalo (5-4), Miami (5-4), Denver (5-4), Jacksonville (4-5) and San Diego (4-5).

They are in the middle of a seven-game stretch against AFC teams, having lost to Tennessee on October 27 before beating New England and Pittsburgh. After the Houston game, they will travel to San Diego before playing at Cleveland (3-6) and Cincinnati.

"We just know we can't stub our toes anymore," Clark said. "We have to keep going. We have to keep firing and keep working hard. The imance of being able to do that is our preparation. I think everyone has done a great job of preparing each week, getting the game plan, understanding it and understanding their job.

"We just have to keep focused on that, and not focus on anything else – what other people are doing. We just have to focus on ourselves and things we can control. We'll have a better chance of achieving our goal doing it that way."

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