Last Year's Postseason Loss Not an Issue This Week, Colts Players Say
INDIANAPOLIS – As Reggie Wayne sees it, the past means nothing.
Particularly not this week.
And particularly not when it comes to the NFL playoffs.
Wayne, the Colts' three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, said although a loss to the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Divisional Playoff game last season may be fresh in the minds of fans and observers, and while those entities may consider that game imant this week, its actual importance is . . .
Well, it's actually of no importance at all.
"Not at all," Wayne said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (12-4) prepared to play the AFC West Champion Chargers (8-8) in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., Saturday at 8 p.m.
"None," Wayne continued. "Zilch. Nada. Zero. Last year is last year. Can't do anything about it. Can't bring it back. There's no revenge factor.
"This is a whole new season, a whole new theory, a whole new identity."
Not that the memory of last season isn't an unpleasant one for the Colts.
And not that Colts players don't very much want to beat the Chargers, who in the last five seasons have developed into a familiar opponent and therefore a fierce non-division rival.
"We know each other very well," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said. "We're excited about it. We're going down there with a little chip on our shoulder from last year, but we're just excited for this game coming up."
The Colts and Chargers have played five times since December 2004, with the games being some of the Colts' – and the NFL's – most memorable matchups in that span.
• In the '04 meeting, Indianapolis rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 34-31 in overtime in the RCA Dome, with quarterback Peyton Manning setting the then-NFL record for touchdown passes in a season during the game.
• In 2005, the Chargers snapped the Colts' 13-game season-opening winning streak with a 26-17 victory at the RCA Dome.
• Last season, playing without players such as Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Tony Ugoh and Raheem Brock on a rain-soaked San Diego night, the Colts rallied from a 23-0 first-half deficit in San Diego, losing 23-21 when kicker Adam Vinatieri's late-game 29-yard field goal missed wide right.
• This past January, in the final game in the RCA Dome, the Chargers came from behind four times to beat the Colts, 28-24, in the second round of the playoffs.
• This past November in San Diego, the Chargers rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit before Vinatieri – kicking toward the same end of the field as his late-game miss the previous season – converted a 51-yard field goal on the final play of a 23-20 Colts victory.
"It's always a great game for us," said Colts safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year who is expected to start Saturday after missing 10 regular-season games. "We always play physical. They're a physical team. We consider ourselves a physical team, and it's always a match. It's definitely tough going out there and playing, but we have to be ready for the challenge.
"We have to expect any and everything, just be ready to execute."
Of last year's loss in the postseason, Sanders said, "You can pin-point a lot of things in that game that you can say caused us to not play well, but I think a lot of it's just tackling, executing, just being on the details. We really, really have to make sure that we're prepared and ready to do our job. That's our main concern."
The Chargers-Colts game in the 2007 postseason was, in a very real sense, similar to most of the teams' recent meetings. Four of the five games have been decided by a total of 12 points, with the Chargers leading the 2005 meeting by two points until a late touchdown run by then backup running back Michael Turner.
In the playoff game last season, the Colts outgained the Chargers, 446-411. Quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 402 yards and three touchdowns, but the Colts also committed three turnovers to one for San Diego. That was a formula the Chargers throughout last season, during which they led the NFL with a plus-24 turnover ratio. With Billy Volek subbing for injured starting quarterback Philip Rivers and Turner subbing for injured starting running back LaDainian Tomlinson in the second half, the Chargers rallied from a 10-7 halftime deficit for the victory.
"It made for a hard off-season, that's for sure," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. "But a lot of football has been played (since then). We've moved on, obviously, so we've had a whole season under our belts. It's not really a big deal. Both teams have changed a lot, but that was a tough one. That's for sure."
Said Colts safety Melvin Bullitt, "Last year they ended our season early and we're looking to do the same to them. We're not looking for any revenge. We just know we have to go out and execute. We have to go out and play basically a perfect game, because if we don't, they can open it up either way."
The nature of the NFL during the salary-cap and free-agency era makes concepts such as avenging losses of previous seasons a bit antiquated, players and coaches said this week. Although many Colts players experienced last season's loss, 18 of the Colts' 53 players were not on the roster last season.
"You lose so many guys," Saturday said. "So many teammates go somewhere else and there are so many new players – their only experience is us playing San Diego this year. That's really the mentality you have to take, but I can promise you it would feel good to go to their home and beat them."
Said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, "You can always build on past experiences and you can remember past playoff games and you can remember all that stuff, but honestly past successes for either team is not going to make much of a difference. What either team did last week, last month, last year isn't going to make much of a difference. The team that prepares the best this week and goes out and plays the best is going to be the victorious team. I think both teams know that.
"I think both teams are preparing hard, and the team that executes the best and has the fewest amount of turnovers and penalties and all the stuff that you guys know already are the things that are going to make the difference in the outcome of the game."
Saturday said if last year's game will have little effect on this year's, the same is true of the Colts' victory in San Diego earlier this season. The Colts entered that game 6-4, and the Chargers were 4-6. The Colts haven't lost since, and the Chargers have lost just once.
"You have to go in knowing they're playing totally different," Saturday said. "It's like when we were 3-4. So many teams that had beaten us probably didn't have as good a team as we had. It's just how you're playing at the time. They weren't playing great and we beat them.
"They're playing a lot better now, so we have to expect their best."
And while the Colts certainly haven't forgotten the events of last January, Wayne said there is enough experience on the roster to know that each postseason – whether it's a four-game run to a Super Bowl title or a loss in the first round – is very much its own experience.
"That's how we treat it as a team," Wayne said. "We just go into it with an opportunity to make history again. We just want to be part of it."