Colts Enter Texans Game In Search of Season's First Three-Game Winning Streak
INDIANAPOLIS – The opunity is real for the Colts.
And not only is it reality, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said it's really, really important if the team is to extend its streak of postseason appearances.
Because the Colts have played well at times this season.
They have beaten good teams.
And they have played efficiently in doing so.
But Dungy, in his seventh year as the Colts' head coach, said what the Colts – a playoff team each of the past six seasons – haven't done this season is play well enough on a consistent basis. At least not consistently enough to piece together what he considers a playoff-type winning streak.
Now, after a pair of grind-it-out, tightly-fought victories over contending teams, the Colts have an opportunity for their first three-game winning streak of the season.
And taking advantage of it, Dungy said, is critical.
"It's hard to win one, to lose one, win one, lose one, and win enough games to get there," Dungy said this week 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.
"That's how we've been in the first half of the year. We talked about starting off the second half of the year. We got our first win, but now we have to put one together. We have a chance, coming back home, to get win No. 2 in the second half and build on it.
"It will be critical to have a good performance and play better than we did against Pittsburgh."
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, lost back-to-back road games by double digits to Green Bay and Tennessee in late October, and entered November with Dungy saying they needed a streak to regain momentum.
In the first two games of November, they made a significant move towards such a streak, first beating the AFC East-leading New England Patriots, 18-15, in a nationally-televised game at Lucas Oil Stadium. This past week, they beat the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-20, rallying from a 17-7 first-half deficit to win in Pittsburgh for the first time in four decades.
"We are fighting and scratching," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "We've kind of been the underdog. . . . This is the type of football and the conditions we're playing in. We're beat up. We have a lot of new guys playing. We truly are kind of fighting and scratching and clawing and trying to find a way to have a chance in the fourth quarter to win the game."
The back-to-back victories didn't allow the Colts to gain ground in the South, where they still trail with division-leading Tennessee (9-0), the NFL's lone unbeaten team.
But the situation in the AFC is far different, with the Colts entering the Texans' game a game behind New England (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), Baltimore (6-3) and the New York Jets (6-3), 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 are Buffalo (5-4), Miami (5-4), Denver (5-4), Jacksonville (4-5) and San Diego (4-5).
The Colts have entered most recent November/December stretches leading the division and playing for playoff seeding. They led the AFC South from start-to-finish in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007, starting 5-0, 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0, respectively in those seasons.
In 2002 and 2004, they started 4-4 and 4-3 before finishing 6-2 and 8-1 to secure playoff spots. This season, Dungy said, said the coming weeks will be critical to the postseason chances with games against the Houston Texans (3-6, Sunday), at San Diego (November 23) and at Cleveland (3-6, November 30) the next three weeks.
The Colts already have victories over Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore, and lost to Jacksonville in Week 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The past two weeks – because the position in the standings of Pittsburgh and New England – were important, Dungy said, adding that the next several weeks – with games against Houston (3-6), at San Diego (4-5) and at Cleveland (3-6) – are just as critical.
"I told that to the team after the Tennessee game (a 31-21 loss on October 27), 'We're playing New England, we're playing Pittsburgh, we're playing Houston, San Diego . . .''' Dungy said. "These are all teams that are in the hunt for that wild-card spot. Head-to-head will probably be the first tiebreaker with somebody, then the next thing is going to be AFC record.
"You have to win all of these games against these AFC teams, especially the ones who are in the wild-card chase with you."
The Texans, a season after going .500 for the first time since their 2002 inception, had a difficult start to the season, and after a three-game winning streak, lost their last two games in the wake of an injury to quarterback Matt Schaub.
"They have suffered from bad breaks at the quarterback position," Colts President Bill Polian said. "(Matt) Schaub has been in and out of the lineup. (Sage) Rosenfels has been in and out of the lineup. They have not been able to develop any real consistency there and that has hurt them some."
After losing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead in a 31-27 loss to Indianapolis in Week 5, the Texans won three consecutive home games before Schaub sustained a knee injury during a 28-21 loss at Minnesota two weeks ago.
Sage Rosenfels, the Texans' backup quarterback, threw four interceptions – two of which set up fourth-quarter touchdowns – in a 41-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Houston this past Sunday. Houston trailed 19-13 entering the fourth quarter.
"We have a big game next week at Indianapolis," said Rosenfels, who is expected to start at least the next two weeks with Schaub being out. "That's a game we all know that we think we can win because we played them so well the first time. We'll have to play even better next week.
"You never know what's going to happen. We're just going to take them one at a time and see what happens."
With wide receiver Andre Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, continuing to emerge as one of the league's top players at his position, the Texans scored 27 or more points in five consecutive games. Johnson leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yards with 67 and 900, and in Schaub's absence this past week, he caught nine passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
"They're very capable of winning any game they play," Polian said. "They were in the game (Sunday). They got into trouble with turnovers and some big plays that Baltimore was able to come up with that made that game look as though it was a blowout when in reality it was really close for about three quarters.
"They're more than capable. They'll be coming in here figuring this is a way to make a statement in the AFC South and they would be right to think that."
For the Colts, Dungy said the game isn't so much about a statement than a streak – namely, the chance to start one, which is something the Colts have done routinely during his six previous seasons. The Colts never have gone through an entire season under Dungy without winning at least four consecutive games, and they have had 11 streaks of three games or more in his tenure.
And now, in the wake of victories over contenders, Dungy said it's time to take advantage of an opportunity that is not only real, but very, very important, too.
"We're playing a little bit better," Dungy said. "We've played three good teams the last three weeks and had three good performances, and we hadn't really had those good performances back to back. We're practicing better. We just have to now make that show up in the game situation."