SHORT WEEK, BIG GOAL

The Colts can clinch a seventh consecutive playoff appearance and the No. 5 seed in the AFC with a victory at Jacksonville Thursday night.

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Colts Have Short Week Before Critical Game in Jacksonville Thursday
INDIANAPOLIS – The situation is far from easy.

It's difficult mentally and difficult physically. Really, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said, there isn't any way the circumstances surrounding the Colts this week aren't different than usual.

Less time than usual to prepare.

Certainly not enough time to recover.

Still, with the Colts one victory away from their seventh consecutive postseason appearance, Manning said no matter how unique the circumstance, the Colts' approach will be similar to what it has been during a seven-game winning streak that has moved them to the top of the AFC Wild Card standings.

They'll scratch. They'll fight.

And mostly, they'll keep grinding.

"From the very git-go, the games we've lost (this season) have been tough and the games we've won have been tough," Manning Tuesday said as the Colts (10-4) prepared to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) in an AFC South game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Thursday at 8:15 p.m.

"That's what we expect this week – a tough game that will go down to the fourth quarter. We need to play a little bit sharper than we did on Sunday (in a 31-21 victory at home over the Detroit Lions). It's always a close game when we play them (the Jaguars), and it usually goes down to the fourth quarter.

"That's what we're expecting going in."

Said Colts tight end Dallas Clark, "No matter what's at stake, you have to approach them all the same. This is no different. We just have to prepare and know there are definitely good things that happen if we win, but win or lose, we have to go back to work next week and finish the season."

The Colts, who have won seven consecutive games since back-to-back losses in late October, can clinch their seventh consecutive postseason appearance with a victory in Jacksonville. A victory also would ensure the Colts of the AFC's No. 5 seed.

"There's a lot riding on this game," Colts linebacker Freddy Keiaho said.

The Tennessee Titans have clinched the AFC South, and because the Colts cannot win a division they won from 2003-2007, they can be seeded no higher than fifth.

"We definitely want this win to get in the playoffs," said Colts defensive end Raheem Brock, who said the Colts also will be motivated by a 23-21 loss to Jacksonville at home in Week 3.

"They beat us here the last game, so we definitely owe them. We're going to go down there with a chip on our shoulder after that loss."

Because of the change in schedule, Head Coach Tony Dungy said the Colts have altered their normal practice routine. Colts players had Monday off following a victory over Detroit this past Sunday, then returned to practice Tuesday. They will practice Wednesday before traveling to Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon.

"It's a little bit different routine for us," Dungy said Tuesday afternoon. "We've got to get going and this morning, we got off to a good start."

Said Colts center Jeff Saturday, "You're kind of condensing everything down into a basic day and a half before you travel. The good side of it is obviously we play Jacksonville twice a year every year, so we shouldn't have many questions about how well we know them.

"You just have to go out and execute."

Colts coaches spent Monday game-planning for Jacksonville.

"It's a little tough coming back practicing after just one day off, but I think our guys will handle it well," Dungy said. "We have a lot riding on the game, obviously, so I think our concentration level will be there and be great. We're actually going to alter things a little bit, go at a little bit of slower pace, and do a little more walkthrough-tempo stuff and cut down our practice a little bit, but other than that, everything's going to be normal in terms of our time preparation.

"We'll try to get one more workout in tomorrow before we fly out."

Said Keiaho, "It's a good thing that we only have one day of practice, but the tough thing is you don't have the full recovery time."

The Colts have played mid-season Thursday games twice in the last five seasons, winning at Detroit (41-9) on Thanksgiving Day 2004 and winning at Atlanta (31-13) on Thanksgiving Day last season.

"We did it last year, and we did it four years ago," Manning said. "We've always gone on the road every single time, so we feel like we have a pretty good idea what the schedule is, but it's always a challenge."

Said Dungy, "Both sides have the physical problems and you don't have as much freshness and energy," Dungy said. "You'll get through that, but you have to push yourself to concentrate. It's a little easier knowing we've played them before and they've played us, so the preparation is not like investigating a new team. I think it's going to be OK."

The Colts and Jaguars have played twice a season since the AFC South's 2002 inception, and several players this week said that familiarity should make preparation a bit simpler. Still, Manning said that's not necessarily true offensively. Jacksonville changed defensive coordinators in the offseason, with former coordinator Mike Smith taking the Atlanta Falcons head coaching position and Gregg Williams taking over.

Although the teams played in Week 3, Manning said the tape study to become familiar with the new scheme – and what the Jaguars have done in recent weeks – will be extensive.

"It's a short week and everybody knows the challenge that brings to the table physically," Manning said. "Obviously, it was a pretty physical game Sunday, and then mentally – just trying to get prepared for a team that still for us, is a pretty unfamiliar opponent because of the fact that they a new defensive coordinator. It's a lot of film to watch in a short period of time."

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