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 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Sunday. There were a lot of elements – winning there for the first time in 40 years, beating a good defensive team on the road, doing it in a playoff atmosphere – that made that special, weren't there?
Answer: It was one we needed. They're tough to get. To go in there and win it like that, to come back in the fourth quarter and get a takeaway and a score, then stop them . . . that's huge momentum. Hopefully, we can build off of it.
Q: The victory over Steelers was the Colts' second in as many weeks over an AFC team leading its division. Is this the sort of stretch that can define a season?
A: I think so. We had gone and we really hadn't beaten an upper-level team. Now, we're playing two division leaders back-to-back and two very good, historic teams. To win those games in two hard-fought games that you have to win in the fourth quarter, I think it did a lot for our guys – especially our young guys – to know we can do that and win those big games in the fourth quarter against good opponents.
Q: It's hard to imagine a scenario late in the season where the Patriots and Steelers won't be among those teams fighting for playoff spots. That makes the last two weeks imant for tiebreaker reasons, too . . .
A: This stretch here: Houston, division game; San Diego, coming up; Tennessee; Pittsburgh; New England . . . you knew with all of these AFC games stacked together we were going to have to win our share of them. Now, we have a tiebreaker over Baltimore and Pittsburgh, who are tied for the lead in their division (the AFC North), and New England. That helps you if you can win enough games to get tied with those guys.
Q: Several players mentioned after the victory over the Steelers that the Colts were maybe learning how to win in a different way, and learning the importance and technique of playing tough, 60-minute games. Do you agree?
A: They've been tough games. We've had to go up and down. Everything hasn't been perfect. You have to battle, battle, battle and you have to make plays in the fourth quarter. It has been a while. We weren't in a lot of those kinds of games last year or the year before. It's positive that we're starting to do that.
Q: You won that way the last two weeks against teams that have been kind of known in recent years for winning tough, street-fight games. Is there significance to that?
A: When you get in big games late in the year, they're going to be that way. You have to be able to do that. Learning how to do it is important.
Q: You have played three of the NFL's top defenses this season in Tennessee, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Not only that, the Colts have scored more points on each of those teams than anyone else on their respective schedules. Does that give you a good feel about the offense moving forward?
A: It is there. People are looking at the running game and saying, 'It's not this or that.' We don't really look at it that way. We've played three good defenses and we've scored points on them, so whether it's running or throwing or whether our percentage is as high as it usually is – none of those things really matter. It's, 'Can you move the ball? Can you sustain drives? Can you score points.' We didn't probably play as well as we'd have liked, but we still scored enough points to win in two of them.
Q: You set a goal of three takeaways per game. The Colts got three Sunday, and with two setting up touchdowns and one saving a touchdown at game's end, you needed every one . . .
A: That's been the secret the last two weeks. We have gotten the takeaways and we haven't turned it over (in the victories over Pittsburgh and New England). In (the loss to Tennessee) two weeks ago, we didn't get any and we turned it over twice and that was really the difference. I know our guys believe that and we stress it. If you play hard and you're fundamentally sound, you can get them. They are critical in those kinds of games.
Q: The Colts have trailed by 10 or more points in six of nine games this season and they have rallied from double-digit deficits to win on the road three times. It's an impressive thing to rally from deficits so large, but it's not how you want to play, is it?
A: That's very rare (to overcome three double-digit deficits in one season). It maybe talks about the quality of our offense, being able to do that, and guys hanging together, but you'll go a long time usually between double-digit comebacks on the road.
Q: The first two comebacks – at Minnesota and at Houston – were games in which the Colts rallied mostly in the fourth quarter. The Steelers game had a different feel because the Colts cut a 17-7 lead to three points with a touchdown late in the second quarter. That touchdown followed an interception in Steelers territory, and the task would have been much more difficult with a 10-point halftime deficit, correct?
A: It would have been tougher. No question about it. You always had the sense that we were close. We had all of the big-play opportunities and the balls were just off our fingertips, just overthrown – that kind of thing. But if they had been up and just able to tee off and not have to worry about the run, period, then it would have been a lot tougher in the second half.
Q: There are certainly similarities between 2002, your first season with the Colts, and this season. In 2002, you were 4-4 and in Week 9, traveled to Pennsylvania for a big victory over the Eagles. This season, you were 4-4 and traveled to Pennsylvania for another big victory . . .
A: It was so similar. We had struggled a little bit and we were going on the road in a tough environment against a team that was playing well and it was a game we really had to win. It's very, very similar. Eerie.
Q: It's not as if you never had won in Pittsburgh as a coach, but having played there and coached there, you have a sense for how difficult a place that is to win. That meant more to you than the fact that the Colts' franchise hadn't won there in four decades, didn't it?
A: It's not like we talked about, 'Hey, it has been 40 years since the Colts won or whatever,' but they only lose one or two games there every year. They're 7-1 or 6-2 there every year. They had lost one to the (New York) Giants already, so they probably won't lose any more at home if history is any indication. You knew it was going to be tough and you knew it was going to be the type of game that in order to win you were going to have to make some big plays and outfight them in the fourth quarter. We were able to do it. I think it's good. We've been to Tennessee. We've been there. We'll go to San Diego two weeks from now. We have played New England. We have played Baltimore. So, we've played a ton of the top teams. I think we know the difference is not turning the ball over. We're in every game, so developing that sharpness where we're playing just a little bit better than we were the first half of the year is probably all it takes.
Q: Have you been in the opposite situation, where for whatever reason you hadn't played a lot of contenders going into the postseason?
A: You can. Sometimes it happens that way and you don't really know how you're going to match up or you had the feeling that, 'Oh, this team is great and this team is great.' But we've seen them all and we understand how good they are, but there's not any factor of not knowing how you'll do against them.
Q: It has been a long time since the Colts were in "must-win" games in November. A substantially different feel this year?
A: We've had big games for us in terms of protecting a lead. We've always been on the other side of the coin saying, 'Hey, we can knock these guys out or the box if we win.' That's a different kind of pressure as opposed to, 'Hey, we're going to be 'X' number of games behind,' or, 'We'll put ourselves where we have to win every week from here on out.' It has been different. It really has.
Q: Did the last two weeks sort of feel like your last three years in Tampa Bay? Each of those years, the Buccaneers overcame 3-4 starts to make the playoffs . . .
A: It is similar. You have to dig down. You have to dig deep. You're playing tough, physical games and somehow, you get a win and that has you feeling good that week. Then, you get another win and confidence starts to build. All of a sudden, people haven't seen you coming, but you're right there in the thick of things.
Q: You've been asked about it several times, but when you're in a playoff chase, it is important to get a streak started as some point, isn't it?
A: That's how you build. You play a little bit better next week and don't worry about three weeks down the road. Don't worry about building a streak. Just worry about doing things a little sharper than you did the last week. That's how they happen.
Q: There are some differences between this year's team and the past few on paper. Statistically, the running game is less productive than usual and you already discussed the deficits in many early games. What do you like about this bunch moving forward?
A: Right now, we work hard and we practice hard. We're still inconsistent with some of our young guys doing their jobs and being on the details every play, but we have a lot of energy and we have enough veteran guys who have been there who make those big plays coming down the stretch. So, it's a good mix. It really is.
Q: Is that the key to winning games in the fourth quarter? That group of veteran reliable players?
A: I think so. They don't panic and they don't try to do something above and beyond the call of duty. They just know, 'Hey, 12 minutes or 14 minutes is a long time in the NFL if you just do your job.'
Q: One theme has been there through the entire season, perhaps unfairly. The start was so rocky that people perceive the Colts as having difficulty against the run. But the performance in recent weeks defies that theory . . .
A: We were just a little up and down – really in the first three games: Chicago, Minnesota and Jacksonville. We had breakdowns. Since then, it hasn't been that bad no matter what people may perceive or what they think.
Q: But the tag got put on it early . . .
A: Sure. Sure.
Q: And you attribute the improvement to what?
A: We're playing a little better and getting guys in there who are going to be in there. We're just really doing what we're supposed to do and improving every week.
Q: And if anything, the defensive front is not as big as it was early in the season . . .
A: It really doesn't matter. It's a lot of perception. I think Pittsburgh is perceived as a rough, tough group that you couldn't stop running the ball. They're going against us and they're bigger and everything. We just felt like we were going to have to bow up and do what we were supposed to do, but it was not an insurmountable challenge. We thought if we played our game and our corners tackled well – they were going to force our corners to tackle and if they did we'd be in good shape. Those guys took the challenge.
Q: That was really a case on Sunday night where every player on the roster had to make a play . . .
A: Those guys practiced hard and they prepared that way. (Defensive tackle) Antonio Johnson got here and after Wednesday's practice we said, 'Hey, you've got to keep working and get it down because you're going to play Sunday.' You'll be able to help us.
Q: What's your feel moving forward?
A: It may help us (not playing with a lead in the division), because that mental pressure to produce will be on us. We know we can't have a lapse. Houston has not won a game up here, but if they beat us it will be a big setback, so I know we'll come out and prepare because it's not like we have a two-or-three game lead and that's good. I think we'll have the attention of the players and they'll continue to work like they have the last three weeks when we were playing division leaders.