INDIANAPOLIS – A rough start to a season is only that – a start.
The Colts stand at 0-3 and finish the first half of the 2011 regular season with a Monday Night game at Tampa Bay.
Though no one is pleased with the outcome of the first three games, there is nothing but firm resolve as the team moves forward.
Count Head Coach Jim Caldwell as the point-person for leading the way.
"I am a man of faith, there's no question about that. But also, within the context of our team itself, we have a lot of guys that have been through a lot of tough situations and a lot of adversity," said Caldwell. "They've been able to hang in there and come through it. I believe in them. We just have to keep working together until we get it over the hump.
"I also believe in how we do things around here. When you look at it, it's certainly produced a lot of victories. There's a formula to it. There's a way in which we get it done, and sometimes we have to tweak it a little bit because of adverse circumstances. Nevertheless, I certainly believe in that as well."
Tight end Dallas Clark has been a go-to guy on the field for years. Clark also is a go-to guy for leadership, and he knows where to look in a difficult time.
"Within this locker room we've got great men," said Clark. "We've been in situations before, and we've been able to overcome them. I really think this is no different. I think we have great leadership, and we're definitely going to rely on that. That's where it has to start."
Every challenge starts with a first step and a good frame of mind. Cornerback Jerraud Powers embodies that approach, and he urges those around him to keep the same mindset.
"You've just got to come in every day with a positive attitude, and just do your job," said Powers. "Some of these things are out of our control. We can't control injuries or whatever the case may be. We can only control what we do on the field and the guys that are healthy and playing. We've just got to come in with a positive attitude, come in every day thinking to get better and getting better. Just go from there."
Safety Antoine Bethea was a sixth-round draft pick from Howard University who overcame challenges to reach the NFL. With the heart of a champion and a resume to prove it, he knows how the club will handle its current situation.
"We're still here. You can't hold your head, you have to be blessed with what you have," said Bethea. "You have to be blessed to be able to walk in this locker room, to be able to play the game we love. It's not the end of the world. Yeah, we are 0-3. We have 13 games left. You have to put your best foot forward, keep fighting and sooner or later it will turn around for us."
Six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney has bull-rushed, spun, charged and worked his way to 97 career sacks. His guile and expertise is on display every time he hits the field. His approach off the field is not being altered.
"It (the approach) doesn't change. Fortunately for years around here, we've always won," said Freeney. "It's always been, 'Who cares about what we did last week? It's always about this next challenge.' Now, we're 0-3, but it's the same thing. It's, 'Focus on the next opponent.' That's what is most important. That's what we're going to do. We'll add up the wins and losses at the end and see where we stand. It doesn't change, whether we're 3-0 or 0-3. We don't want to be 0-3, but it doesn't change. We can't win eight games (this week). We can only win one. Let's take that next step, and that's what we will try to do."
The team was hit with injuries that necessitated team captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt being put on injured reserve this week. Rather than lament the situation Freeney says while the team will miss their contributions, it will look within to seek the desired results.
"We don't think that," said Freeney about asking, 'What Next?' "We're just trying to go out and whatever guys we have you try to make it happen. We are true believers in the team. That's how we believe around here. The team will find a way, 53 guys, we'll find a way to make it happen. That's our mentality, and it's not going to change. Unfortunately, we're losing big guys like, Gary (Brackett and Melvin Bullitt). It doesn't help us. Obviously, their leadership and what they do out there is tremendous. We will have to find a way to get through it."
Kicker Adam Vinatieri has been through difficult situations before in his career, and he has seen teams he has played for work through tough times. Vinatieri believes Indianapolis still has plenty of veteran leadership on hand.
"Losing guys like Gary (Brackett) and Melvin (Bullitt) and not having Peyton (Manning) out there, those are big losses on the field," said Vinatieri. "We always have that 'Next Man Up' mentality, and we still have plenty of good players to have a successful run at this thing. Gary and Melvin weren't out there last week, but we played pretty well against a good Pittsburgh offense. Our defense played really well. I think we can continue doing that. Our offense will start scoring more points, and we will be in good shape."
Fighting perceptions and observations of outsiders is something the team avoids. The best approach every season, regardless of a record, is to listen to the voices inside an organization. Freeney advocates the approach because it works.
"I guess it's frustrating if you pay attention to it. I don't pay attention to it, therefore it doesn't affect me," he said. "If the guys here in this locker room stand together and focus on the challenges ahead and not worry about all the outsiders who have no influence on the game and are not out there playing, it doesn't matter. They (outsiders) have an opinion. That's okay. We continue toward the next game and worry about the next challenge."
Vinatieri has made a living out of thriving in clutch situations. He knows the outside voices need to be discounted by his teammates and that the voices inside the building must be prominent.
"A lot of times the 'seasons projected' and 'best teams out there,' very seldom are those the ones that actually finish it off that way," said Vinatieri. "We don't care about any of that stuff. For us, we're just concerned about trying to get a win in this first quarter (of the season). There still are three quarters of the season left after this week. There's a lot of football left to be played. There's nobody who has made the playoffs at this point. There's nobody that's been eliminated. We're not thinking about that. We're not talking about it. We're just trying to get one win and try to kind of start stack some of those together.
"I think we're playing better football every week, and that's a step in the right direction. Obviously, we didn't want to be 0-3 right now, and we're trying to get things going in the right direction. We still have our confidence. We still know that we can play well, and we're making strides in the right direction. We're minimizing our penalties. We're trying to make more big plays and not give up as many. Playing a good team last week, we showed that we still have a lot of drive and 'want,' and we're not giving up. The season is still long, and there is still plenty of football to be played. We're just going to try to do what we always do, and take them one game at a time. Try to get a win and get on a winning track. Tampa Bay is a good team. We're going to have to play very well. If we do, we'll have a chance. That's all we can ask for."