RIGHT IN IT

Being .500 after eight games wasn't exactly the Colts' goal entering the season. But on the day after an 18-15 victory over the New England Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the record has the Colts firmly in the AFC playoff picture.

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At 4-4, Dungy Says Coming Weeks are Critical to Colts Playoff Hopes
INDIANAPOLIS – After eight games, the Colts are all even.

And if being .500 at the midway point of the 2008 NFL season wasn't exactly the preseason goal, a day after a prime-time victory over a longtime rival Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Monday afternoon it's far from a disaster.

The Colts haven't been perfect this season. Dungy said they weren't perfect Sunday, either.

But on Sunday, they were good enough to win. And after eight games, they're good enough to remain in contention for a playoff spot.

And right now, Dungy said the Colts will take that.

"It was a good win," Dungy said Monday, a day after the Colts (4-4) rallied from a five-point second-half deficit for a grind-it-out, patient 18-15 victory over the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (5-3) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

"It was just like maybe our whole first half of the season – some good things, some things we have to work on. Being 4-4 at the halfway point, we're in the hunt. That's probably the best thing to say about it. We have to get some consistency and get ourselves a winning streak going into the second half (of the season).

"But it's always good to win your home games, win on national TV and beat a team like New England."

The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team the past six seasons, are four games behind the division-leading Tennessee Titans (8-0), but the victory over the Patriots left them tied with the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos for the seventh-best record in the conference.

The Colts are among 12 teams in the AFC with five, four or three victories. Tennessee is the only AFC team with more than five victories.

The four division champions and two wild-card teams make the postseason from each conference.

The game against New England was the first of what Dungy said likely will be a critical five-game stretch against AFC playoff-contending teams. The next four games:

• At Pittsburgh (5-2) Sunday.

• Home against Houston (3-5), November 16.

• At San Diego (3-5), November 23.

• At Cleveland (3-5), November 30.

"You're looking at tiebreakers, and there are all of these AFC games," Dungy said. "Even if it doesn't end up being head-to-head, it's AFC record. We've kind of put ourselves in that position where we have to win all of these."

"We're getting into a stretch where we're playing all of these AFC teams that are right in the hunt. It's almost like we have to win every week and we'll need the same type of performance."

Dungy, speaking at his weekly next-day news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, called the victory over New England unusual, primarily because of its quick nature.

With each team turning in extended drives, Dungy said possessions – and execution on those possessions – were at a premium. The Colts had just seven possessions in the game compared to about 12 or 13 normally and the game lasted 2:41.

New England had four possessions of 6:18 or more and punted just once. The Colts had a first-half possession of 9:02, and punted just three times.

Each team altered its game plan because of injuries, Dungy said. The Colts played without three of their top four cornerbacks – Marlin Jackson, who is out for the season with a knee injury; Kelvin Hayden, and Dante Hughes – and the Patriots recently lost safety Rodney Harrison for the season with a quadriceps injury. The Patriots also are without quarterback Tom Brady and running back Laurence Maroney, each of whom is out for the season with injuries.

"It was just really strange," Dungy said. "Our offense didn't get too many chances, but fortunately we capitalized with a couple."

The Colts scored on three of their seven possessions and did not commit a turnover. They had at least one first down on six of their seven possessions.

"You just have to do your job," Dungy said. "The one thing you know is you're going to get the same amount of chances they are. So, if you don't get frustrated and if you don't feel like you've got to do something too fast because you may not get the ball back for a while – that's when it gets to you.

"I thought we did a good job of keeping our patience. We had a couple of makeable first downs we didn't make. I know our group was frustrated about that, but we took advantage of our shots in the red zone.

"That's what we thought the game would come down to. We thought we'd get down there a few times and we had to take advantage of it."

The Colts scored touchdowns on each of their two red-zone possessions Sunday, with the other three points coming on a 52-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri midway through the fourth quarter. The Colts this season have scored touchdowns on 17 of 22 possessions in the red zone, and lead the NFL with a 77.3 touchdown efficiency in the red zone.

On Sunday, the Colts two red-zone touchdowns came on touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez.

"We have an experienced quarterback who can read the defenses," Dungy said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays down there. It has been good for us, and in the games we have won, it's what has really helped us."

After the game, several Colts players talked extensively of a difference being solid execution and a nearly error-free performance. The Colts' lone penalty came at the end of the first half, and because it occurred on the final play of the half, it resulted in a 10-second runoff rather than yardage. The Colts' last game without a penalty came in 1999.

The Patriots, who were not assessed a penalty the week before and who entered the game with the league's fewest penalties against, were penalized twice for 20 yards, including a critical 15-yard, unsanlike conduct penalty with 4:45 remaining.

After a 1-yard run on 2nd-and-2 from the Colts 32, Patriots tight end David Thomas hit Colts defensive end Robert Mathis.

The penalty on Thomas turned a 3rd-and-1 at the 31 into 3rd-and-15 at the 46, and after a 1-yard pass to running back Kevin Faulk, Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel threw 20 yards downfield to tight end Ben Watson.

Safety Bob Sanders intercepted and the Colts ran the clock to :21 before punting.

"That was really the big play in the game," Dungy said. "That gave us a chance to get off the field with a lead, and our offense was able to really burn the clock from there on out."

And Dungy said it was that – execution and reduction of errors – that made the difference Sunday more than effort, an area he said had been fine in recent weeks, including against Tennessee and Green Bay in double-digit losses in recent weeks.

"I thought we had it last week in Tennessee," Dungy said. "We played with a lot of emotion and a lot of energy. We just didn't play well enough and didn't make plays coming down the stretch. But I thought for the last three weeks our energy level has been good."

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