A Weekly Conversation with Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
Each week during the 2008 regular season, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy will discuss topics pertinent to the Colts with Colts.com.
Question: A 31-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday has left the team 3-4 after seven weeks. It's logical to compare this to several 3-4 starts you had while coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Colts started 4-3 in 2004 before winning eight consecutive games. Any comparisons?
A: It's probably close. We had to fight through some things. The difference was we had gone through the end of '03 and the beginning of '04 and you had a good feeling about things. But that's much like we are now. We've gone through four or five years and we're saying, 'We should be playing better than this.' It's similar. We had a couple of tough games where we were kind of our own worst enemy there in '04. We weren't as consistent as we needed to be. Then, we got it going.
Q: At 3-4, there are observers writing this thing off, but there's not that much difference between 3-4 and 4-3 and that was a 12-4 season . . .
A: There are probably 12 teams in the AFC that are right there. A couple of them are going to get hot and at the end of the year you're going to say, 'Wow,' and you're not going to really remember that they were 3-4 or 4-3. A couple of other teams are going to fall by the wayside and have a poor year. And a lot of teams that are going to be in between. But if you're one of those teams that gets hot, you don't remember. That's really where we are. We have to be one of those teams that gets hot and we have to get on a streak.
Q: As you go forward, there are so many people asking, 'What's wrong with this? What's wrong with that?' What are you hanging your hat on this week? Why are you confident?
A: Just the fact that we still have quality players. We have guys who we know can do the job and have done the job before. That's the difference. We went through a similar stretch before. Our December was much like this our Super Bowl year except we had won nine straight games before, so everybody said, 'Oh, they'll come around. They'll come around.' But it was the same type of questions and the same type of inconsistency. When you do it early in the year, people tend to think, 'Well, the season's over. You can never come back off of that.' It's just a matter that we have a track record here of playing well. We have to get back to the things we do when we're playing well.
Q: You said once – perhaps in 2004 – that you liked coaching in adversity because the players respond and listen during the tough times. This may be tougher than you like, but does that still hold true?
A: Hopefully, that's the case. When you look at what it's going to take to get going, what we preach to our guys is the difference between 6-1 and 3-4 is very, very slight. When you're winning those games and you're going 6-1, they tend to think, 'Oh, we have everything going and we're doing great.' Many times you aren't. You're just making the plays you need to make to win games. It's not all that different. That's where we are, and hopefully, they are listening better and realizing that.
Q: Is there an odd feel to Patriots week this year? The Colts have been undefeated entering the last three regular-season meetings, and it usually has been a game of two of the hottest teams in the NFL . . .
A: For us, it feels like it's a big game and it's one we have to have. Normally, that's how they have been when we have played these guys. In that sense, it's the same. The odd thing is you don't have the hundreds of national media in here and everybody talking about this game nationally, but for us, it's kind of a situation where you have to win and that's how it has been for the last five or six years against these guys.
Q: You get 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders back this week. Do you have to guard against players feeling like, 'OK, Bob's back. Everything will be fine?''
A: We have three guys (Sanders, running back Joseph Addai and cornerback Kelvin Hayden) coming back (from injuries) and they'll help us, but they won't magically make everything fine. We have to get some of the issues squared away or it won't matter. But they'll definitely help and hopefully it helps people relax and just do their job and play with energy.
Q: This appears to be a doubly difficult time because not only have you lost back-to-back games, you have a short week to prepare. Just how difficult is the task of refocusing?
A: It's difficult. Monday night games are tough. You usually have some adrenaline going when you win the games. That kind of gets you through the next week. You have to make yourself go and push yourself, especially early in the week – Tuesday for the coaches, Wednesday for the players. It's tough getting back going, but you realize you have to. That's where the mentally tough teams will push themselves and make it work.
Q: It was a difficult, emotional loss on Monday. It would be easy in a sense to not be able to get back up for a game less than six days later . . .
A: You can't afford to do that. Your preparation is so imant in a game like this, the way New England plays and all of the things they give you. If you say, 'Gee, I am down. We invested a lot into the game and it didn't go our way . . .' If you take the excuse, 'Hey, we played Monday night on the road so it's going to be tough,' and you don't start getting in gear until Friday and you've missed some of that sharpness of preparation, you're not going to have a chance on Sunday night.
Q: And that's sort of the definition of a professional: someone who can get through such a time and prepare the same . . .
A: You have to do it. The veteran guys have to push the younger guys. They have to understand what has to be done.
Q: Most guys on this team never have been under .500 this late in the season. They've usually played with big leads and division titles well within reach. Is there a sense that they know it can still be done?
A: I think they do and it's something we've talked about a lot. Seeing some of the six- or seven-game winning streaks and how the games were tight and we made plays to win them – and we are just a little bit off – that helps the guys know what it takes, and the fact that it can be done. Houston is a great example. You couldn't have had a more devastating loss than our game. I didn't know if they'd be able to bounce back, but they have won three straight and now they're right in the mix with everybody else. That's what you have to do. That's how quick it can turn in the NFL. Getting on those streaks, you win a couple of games and you don't feel like you can lose.