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: An 18-15 victory over the New England Patriots in Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday moved the Colts to 4-4 at the season's midway point and snapped a two-game losing streak. How imant was that victory?
Answer: It was really important, No. 1, for our mentality and to know we can go out and beat a good football team. That was critical and No. 2, you have to start winning your home games. To end up being 1-3 at home would have been hard to overcome. The fact that we got back in the race, that we won our home game and that we beat a good team – all of that was very much needed.
Q: And to you, that element of it was more important than evening the record . . .
A: You always try to sell your formula, that, 'We're sitting here now and we have to win our four home games and we have to split on the road. That will be 6-2 and that will get us to 10 wins.' That's kind of your formula, so if you lose a home game, now we have to win the rest of our home games and win three of four on the road. It just makes it a little tougher every week if you don't win and you don't win your home games – and the fact that we played Baltimore already and then we were playing New England. We're playing all of these teams that we're right in the hunt with – Houston, San Diego . . . they're all coming up and you have to win to get those tiebreakers, because these are the teams you're going to be fighting it out with.
Q: Some coaches might not lay that on the table, but you make it clear: 'Here's why this one's big. Here's what this means . . .'
A: You don't want to look back in Week 15 and say, 'Gee, if we had beaten New England, we wouldn't have to be cheering for somebody to beat them now.' It is going to be important and this is the first time in a long time we have been in this position, because usually you're just saying, 'Hey, if we win the division we won't have to worry about anything else.' Now, we are looking at everybody else and tiebreakers and teams you don't play that may end up having a better record than you. All of these AFC games are super important.
Q: You've always said that's why you put a priority on winning the division, because once you get into the wild-card race, you can't control everything. Yet, at this point, you do control what happens . . .
A: We do, because we play so many of these other teams that we're going to be fighting with. We still have a chance and that's why every week is important when you're in a stretch like this, with all teams that are really in the hunt.
Q: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne caught five passes for 65 yards and also caught a critical two-point conversion – all after he missed most of last week's practice with a knee injury . . .
A: I think there's a lot of University of Miami in him, that that's just what you do. When Saturday comes, you play – now I'm in the NFL and when Sunday comes, you play. In the big games, there's no thought to anything else. It's very much old school.
Q: That's sort of the mark of a pro, isn't it – being able to go out, without necessarily practicing all week and perform on Sunday?
A: To be able to look and watch practice and to be able to see, 'OK, here's what we're trying to accomplish, here's what we have set up for this situation, here's the coverage we anticipate when we're calling this' – to know all of those things, see it, not practice, but then be able to get in the game and function . . . that takes a certain amount of work ethic and knowledge of the offense and all of the things he has.
Q: And as you've said before, he's just one of those guys who every year does something a little more than the year before to improve. If every player had that in him . . .
A: (Laughing) You'd have a good team.
Q: The Colts have become accustomed to being ahead in the division. They haven't trailed in the AFC South this late in the season since the first week of November in 2004. But in 2002, the Colts faced a similar situation with a 4-4 record. They won six of their last eight games en route to the first of six consecutive postseason appearances. Any similarities?
A: It's very similar – very much so. We had to go to Philly and Denver in November. We were playing teams we were going to be competing against: they may win their division, but if they don't, you need to win those games . . . you're playing them at their place and it is going to be tough.
Q: And in this situation, as you've said in recent weeks, you really need a streak at some point to go from 4-4 to the postseason . . .
A: You have to win three out of four or you have to win four straight. Somewhere along the line you have to do that.
Q: There have been so many injuries this season, particularly recently at the cornerback position. The Colts always take the 'Next Man Up' approach, but how do you get a team through a situation such as this?
A: That's what you do, emphasize 'Next Man Up,' and you have to emphasize the other units. The units that are healthy have to come through. That's what we said to our defensive line and our offensive line. Those were pretty much our healthy groups. We had banged-up receivers, banged-up tight ends, a banged-up secondary and banged-up linebackers. But our front people had to do a good job and they did.
Q: Is it tougher the first week that guys are out, or is it tougher to sort of maintain that level if you have to go a while?
A: I think it's always tougher the first week, because you're not sure if you can do it. You think you can, but you're really not sure: 'How are we going to function with this guy out or this new guy here?' Once you do it, then you have confidence that you can and it seems to grow from there.
Q: The Colts last won in Pittsburgh 40 years ago. Although you typically tell the players very clearly what the circumstances are around a game, history such as that isn't something you discuss much with the team, is it?
A: Not really, unless it has been us. Going to New England (several years ago), we went two or three years in a row and you have to talk about that, but in terms of the championship game or what has happened in the past – most of these guys, it doesn't mean anything to them. What they look at is the tape and how they play. We played them here a couple of times and played them once there since I've been here. But it's a different coaching staff and we haven't really played them since this (Pittsburgh) staff has been here.
Q: You talked a lot for several weeks about the need to reduce penalties. The Colts committed just one this past week and weren't assessed any yards.
A: Obviously, it helped us to not give them extra chances with penalties and not put ourselves in long-yardage situations. We didn't affect the field position on special teams. There were a lot of positives that in a three-point game make a difference. We have to keep that going and continue to work and keep our techniques sound so that we don't get unnecessary penalties.
Q: A lot of players talked after the game of just that – that without a mistake-free, efficient performance, the Colts wouldn't have won the game . . .
A: It was good to get back to it. We knew it all along, but it was good to get back to it and I think it showed everyone what happens. Pittsburgh is going to be the same way. They kind of thrive on people that make mistakes. They force you into a lot of errors with their pressure defenses. You have to be sound. You can't give yourself those plays that take away momentum.
Q: Can a game like Sunday build momentum in that area? Having done it once is there more of a chance of continuing to play that way?
A: It's just really doing it, doing things the right way and being on top of the details and concentrating and saying, 'We can't have a false start. We can't jump offside. We can't do those things that have cost us in the past.' Then to go out there and have it come to fruition, where you put it together, it was critical.
Q: The Colts face the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night. You played there and were an assistant there at the beginning of your coaching career. That organization really shaped a lot about you as a coach, didn't it?
A: It really did. It's probably like anything if you return to where you started working, or where you got your training. They just did things and do things the right way. I think anybody who has worked there feels a little something special.
Q: People might assume when you say that that you're talking about things on the field, such as defense and football philosophy, but it's a lot more than that . . .
A: It's overall approach of the organization, from how you're treated, how you set things up, what the goal is every year . . . it's just a general thought process of how you win and how you do things as an organization. Whether you end up becoming a head coach of another team or you're a personnel person or an assistant coach, you kind of have a thought about how you do things the right way and how you can win.
Q: They're one of the least turbulent franchises and a hallmark of your style is calm and consistency. Did the Steelers help shape that, too?
A: I think so – consistency, doing things the same way, not being flashy, not having to draw attention to yourself with anything other than your record. You don't have to be out front in anything else other than putting out a good product week after week after week. I think (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim (Irsay) wanted that and that's what attracted me here. It sounded as if it was going to be run in a similar fashion, and that there always was going to be care for all the individuals in the organization, but the biggest thing was the Colts' imprint and how it was going to be viewed around the country, really.
Q: Final question and it looks back to the Colts this season. You've talked about wanting consistency and a solid, efficient effort for 60 minutes a lot this season. It seems you're still wanting to see that consistency and see it – for lack of a better phrase – on a consistent basis.
A: That's what we have to do. That's what November will be all about, if we can sustain it and we're going to have to with the schedule we have. We're going to have to play consistent, good football over a stretch to win enough of these games.