A Weekly Conversation with Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
Each week during the 2008 season, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy discussed topics pertinent to the Colts with Colts.com. This is the last installment of the 2008 season.
Question: The season ended on Saturday night with a 23-17 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game. No matter how often you go through it, you're never quite prepared for the end of the season . . .
Answer: There's really no good way to end it other than winning it all. You're always expecting to play the next week and when you don't, it's a crushing blow. To have the lead in the fourth quarter again and not hold it, that was very disappointing. But I think what we have to do is build on what we did, continue to grow, do what we always do – go back to work and try to get our players we have better. We'll try to bring in some new guys and do the things we always do and see if we can improve.
Q: Until the end, the loss to San Diego – a close game in the fourth quarter – seemed like a carbon copy of so many games this season. The Colts this season won so many close, dramatic games it seemed strange to not win it that way Saturday.
A: It was. We were sitting there like we always were in the fourth quarter. It was a tight game and our defense got a sack and knocks them out of field-goal range. At that point, we had to make one first down and we felt like we were going to make it and win the game. We didn't, so it goes into overtime and you feel like somewhere along the line we're going to make a play. We got into a couple of long-yardage situations and we just couldn't make that play that we needed to win the game.
Q: A lot of players were upset about the penalties on the Colts' defense during the Chargers' final, game-winning drive. But you didn't think that was the difference . . .
A: It was really all us. We had them at 3rd-and-11 (on the overtime drive). They threw a little check-down, got a little time and we didn't get the rush we normally had gotten. He (Chargers quarterback) Philip Rivers got a little more time and (running back Darren) Sproles made a good run. Then, we had a holding penalty on a defensive lineman that was a good call. It's a technique we don't really use. We had another one, another holding penalty, then a face mask. We really let them go down the field with our mistakes. That's where you don't get second chances. You can't have those things come up. That was really the fourth quarter and overtime. We had a lot of penalties. They kicked well, put us in a hole, they took advantage of the short field and the penalties. As we always say, 'Most of the time, those games are lost rather than the other team beating you.'
Q: It's probably too soon, but when you look back on this season, what will you take from it as a whole?
A: It never feels good at the end and you can't see the trees for the forest at the end when it's all over, but we battled back from a tough place – from three wins and four losses. We got a nice streak going and went into the playoffs. I think we were as good as anybody in the playoffs, but that's when you have to do it. That's when you have to make those things happen. That's the disappointment of maybe not playing our best when the chips were on the line.
Q: And it seemed like this was going to be that sort of playoffs, where you either won four games like that – tough, close games – or lost a close one at some point. They were all going to be like that . . .
A: It had been that way for us during the streak, even. They're all tight games. You have to make plays. We had been doing it, so we had confidence we would. That's what the playoffs are all about.
Q: You're proud of every team and you and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning each spoke late in the season how every season is difficult and special. But wasn't there something particularly special about this season, and what the players overcame?
A: It's part of what happens. Every season rolls out differently, but I was proud of these guys for just keeping the focus, for doing what we had to do, for doing our job week in and week out. That led to us playing well for that stretch through November and December.
Q: There were so many injuries this season – from Peyton, to safety Bob Sanders, to center Jeff Saturday, to cornerback Kelvin Hayden – the team really did overcome an extreme amount of adversity and it was a team that easily could have made excuses . . .
A: And we don't. That's the thing I like about our guys. Even on Saturday, that's the way it unfolded and it's what we have to go deal with and we have to move on. That's what they did during the year. They didn't worry about it. They just played and had some great results.
Q: Offensively, the Colts finished out of the Top 10 for the first time since 1998, but moved efficiently at times and played well enough to win 12 games. Overall, your assessment . . .
A: We had to play a little differently and we did some good things considering that we weren't as explosive as we'd been and we weren't running the ball as well as we had in the past. To consistently win those games and keep moving the ball and keep scoring points, our passing game became very precise. We did move the ball and we took advantage of our scoring opunities.
Q: You mentioned the running game. Injuries, a young offensive line – what seemed to just not click?
A: It was a little bit of everything. We had different backs mixing in there, different linemen. We just never put that consistency together that we needed. That's something we'll work on next year.
Q: And again, it was truly a case where it was a team game. The passing offense made up for it, with Peyton winning MVP . . .
A: It did. We had to live and die with that. We had to be precise. We pass-protected well. We stayed away from the turnovers and we moved the ball through the air very well.
Q: Defensively, you had to be proud of those guys. There were a ton of games missed, and still, the unit ranked 11th in the NFL and had eight games holding the opponent to 20 or fewer points . . .
A: There were a lot of guys who contributed and that's what you like to see and there were a lot of guys who grew with on-the-job training. They had that feeling of working together and continuing to play and fight no matter what. It didn't seem to matter who was in there. They got the job done.
Q: It may be a while before people truly appreciate what sorts of years defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had. With a ton of injuries everywhere, and with inexperienced players at tackle, they combined for 21 sacks and each made the Pro Bowl . . .
A: When we needed them in the fourth quarters of big games they did it. They did it in spite of getting chipped and double-teamed. They were very, very productive.
Q: The next few days will be filled with the same speculation as recent off-seasons. You have said you'll take some time to think about your future and make a decision on whether to return next season . . .
A: We just didn't plan to be off this quick. It did kind of sneak up on us, but we'll look at it and see and probably decide in the next three or four days.
Q: People just do not want to believe you hadn't made a decision before the end of the season. But the one constant is that you have taken this time every season and used it to decide . . .
A: When you lose, it's so disappointing that you always feel right after the game this should be it. I found out after the Super Bowl that it's such an exhilarating feeling right after you win it that you kind of think the same thing, 'Hey, this is the time to go out on top.' After all four of the previous years, after a week or so you kind of come back down to earth or come back up and say, 'I really do enjoy this and it's still a lot of fun and there's more to achieve.' So, the last four years have taught me not to go by 20 minutes after the last game.
Q: You have not acted this season like somebody who was tired of what he was doing. You seem to have enjoyed the season . . .
A: It was a fun year to coach. It was a great team to coach. I do still enjoy it. I'll see where I am emotionally and mentally in the next three or four days. If I bounce back like I have in the past, it definitely is still fun.
Q: When you look back on the seven years with this team, there has been so much success. It may not be the perfect time to look at your time here with a broad brush, but do you have an appreciation yet for what a remarkable first seven seasons it has been?
A: I do, because I'm a history person. We had some great runs in the 1970s (with the Pittsburgh Steelers). There were some great teams in the 1980s and 1990s and I think this will be put together with that. Everybody will say, 'It didn't translate into multiple Super Bowls,' but so often it doesn't. Pittsburgh had some great runs with Bill Cowher and they won one. Mike Holmgren had a great run in Green Bay and they won one, so what some of these people – Denver and New England – have done to win multiple Super Bowls is phenomenal. I would have liked to have won more in these seven years, but we didn't. But I think we still can. I don't think the door is closed or the Window of Opportunity is gone. Maybe we can get back there and still win a couple of more.
Q: You mentioned that phrase – Window of Opportunity. It seems people started asking about that a couple of years after you arrived. It hasn't closed yet . . .
A: (Smiling) There doesn't have to be one. The (San Francisco) 49ers ran off that stretch of 16 or 17 10-win seasons and went through different quarterbacks and different coaches. It really is how you play that year. If have those high expectations every year, there's no reason why you can't be a force. I think our organization believes that.
Q: Final question. What about this season will you remember the most?
A: I think I'll remember the dedication of our players, sticking to it, believing in the plan and fighting together through November and December.