Manning, Dungy Say Imance of Sunday's Game is Obvious
INDIANAPOLIS – As Peyton Manning sees it, the word "desperate" is a bit strong.
Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, said Wednesday the Colts know well their situation: third place in the AFC South for the first time in the division's seven-year existence and two-and-a-half games behind unbeaten Tennessee.
The Colts had their bye week this past week.
They focused on improving and on fundamentals.
So, yes, Manning said, Sunday's game against Houston – the second AFC South game in as many games for the Colts – is crucial and the team needs a victory.
Manning said he wouldn't say that.
"I think, 'Playing with a sense of urgency' is probably a safe phrase," Manning said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (1-2), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Houston Texans (0-3) at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's something we always try to do. We certainly know and (Colts Head) Coach (Tony) Dungy is always pointing out what's going on in the rest of the division. We know how the other teams in our division are playing and know that these division games count double."
The Colts, a playoff team the past six seasons, trail the Tennessee Titans (4-0) by two and a half games and trail the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) by a half game. The Colts before this season never had been more than a game out of first place in the AFC South.
But Dungy said the approach entering the week isn't on standings, primarily because it's far too early to focus on such things.
"What I've tried to do is point what happens in the NFL early on," Dungy said. "Washington (now 3-1), everybody early on had things to say about them and what was happening there and what kind of team they were going to have. Now, they beat Dallas and we're saying, 'Wow, this might be the best team in football.' It goes both ways. Dallas, until last weekend, was the best team in football in a lot of people's minds. That's what happens early on.
"You can't really worry about that. You have to try to string better performances together every week – this week better than last week. If we do that, we're going to be in good shape."
The Colts, who lost to Chicago in the regular-season opener, beat Minnesota in Week 2 before losing to Jacksonville in Week 3 on a 51-yard field goal with :04 remaining. They practiced on Wednesday and Thursday last week – practices Dungy compared to training-camp practices because of their emphasis on fundamentals – and returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center to practice Monday.
After a players day off Tuesday, they returned to practice Wednesday to begin full-scale preparations for Houston.
"Coach Dungy addressed it today, that we feel like we had good practice last week and kind of used it to our advantage," said Manning, who has completed 71 of 120 passes for 784 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions after not playing in the preseason because of off-season knee surgery.
"We had a good Monday, so hopefully, we got better from the bye week and hopefully we can come out and play a little better. That's kind of what we've always done with the bye week. We just sort of focus on the Colts and try to get the Colts better. That's what we talk about.
"We had some things we needed to work on and improve on, so hopefully, we did that and can continue to this week and take it to the field on Sunday."
The Texans, after finishing 8-8 last season – the first .500-or-better season in the franchise's six-year history – because of Hurricane Ike have played their first three games on the road, losing to Tennessee 31-12 in Week 3 and 30-27 in overtime to Jacksonville this past Sunday.
The effects of Ike on the schedule continue for the Texans in October, when they will play four consecutive home games against Indianapolis, Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati. Rescheduling their original home opener – a Week 2 game against Baltimore – made October 5 the latest home opener for an NFL team since the Detroit Lions held their home opener on October 8, 2001, because of the events of September 11, 2001.
"I told the team we're going to see a very emotional group I'm sure," Dungy said. "They're a group that plays well at home anyway, but with this being their home opener and the first time back in their stadium since the hurricane, I'm sure we'll see that wave of emotion and we have to be ready for it."
The Colts swept Houston last season, holding off a second-half rally for a 30-24 victory in September and winning 38-15 in Indianapolis in December.
"They're going to be pumped up, playing at home for the first time," Manning said. "I know it has been a challenge for them to have to play three games on the road to start the season . . . It will be emotional for the fans with the first game at home since the hurricane. They're a good football team. You can look at the record, but you can also look at the games and see just want happened in those games. Against Tennessee and Jacksonville, a couple of plays here and there, they're probably winning those games.
"They were 6-2 at home last and we had a real close game down there last year we were fortunate to win. It will be a challenge for us and we need to play better."
Manning said that's particularly true considering Houston's status as a division opponent. Having lost to the Jaguars, the Colts are 0-1 in the South. They went 5-1 in the division last season, have finished above .500 in the South in five of six seasons and never have been 0-2 in the division.
"The game against Jacksonville was extremely important and we came up short, so this is as important this week against Houston," Manning said. "We're coming off our bye week. We have a long stretch from here on out. We'd like to finish off this first quarter of the season with a win. It's an important game and one that we'd like to play well in and try to get a win on the road.
"Were fighting and scratching and trying to find a way to get a win. That's what it's going to take from here on out, especially being a little banged up at certain spots and being young in certain spots. We're going to have to just find a way to get a win."