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 35-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. It seems you're asked this question every week these days, but you must really like how the winning streak has happened nearly as much as you like the streak itself . . .
A: I do. I like the fact that we came through that tough stretch, and then last week was great with us continuing to do the same things – to take care of our business, to prepare well, to get ready – and it showed in our performance. It would have been easy to say, 'Oh, we have a breather,' but the guys didn't do that and you had a sense they were going to play well as the week progressed.
Q: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne after the game said something along the lines of the game not being easy, but being workmanlike. There's a difference, and that's how you have to get through games in that situation, isn't it?
A: It was 7-3 with two minutes to go in the first half and they had the ball to make it 7-6 or 10-7. That's how it was. All of a sudden, we make a couple of plays, then we score and we get a little working margin, but to do that, you had to do your job and that's what happened.
Q: The Colts only have allowed four passing touchdowns this season. The NFL record for fewest allowed is nine in a season. Any significance?
A: You don't think about that while it's going on, but I've not been on a team where it's that low. It gets tough to throw it in from the 7-yard line in and you make people move down in small chunks. That's probably been part of it is we haven't given up a lot of those 18-yard, 20-yard touchdown passes.
Q: You mentioned Monday that you're really selling the players that they have to focus on getting that No. 5 seed. Does it help to have players who have been to the playoffs many times, who can understand that that indeed can be imant?
A: I think it does help. We talked two years ago how important it was to stay at (No.) 3, how it was going to be one of those years where you never know and that three might come in handy: 'Usually, it doesn't, but it just might,' and it ended up being the AFC Championship Game at home. We've got some guys who remember that and we've played all of these teams, so knowing how difficult they are on the road, if you can put one team behind you it helps.
Q: And as you said, this is clearly a year in which a sixth seed – say, New England or Baltimore – can go a long way . . .
A: Any of these teams we've played: Baltimore or New England. We haven't seen the (New York) Jets or Miami, but nobody's safe in yet other than Tennessee. You just have to keep playing, keep winning and No. 1, get yourself in. That's the biggest thing right now.
Q: People talk about the competitive nature of the AFC, and you'll probably be asked in coming weeks about how close it is. But as you've said before, it's tight every year. It's just that this season, the Colts are playing for a wild card berth and not an AFC South title.
A: That's exactly right. Normally, we've been there and kind of looking at what's going on, who we're going to end up playing, but it has been this way a lot.
Q: There's starting to be some talk nationally about Colts quarterback Peyton Manning possibly being a Most Valuable Player candidate. Can you just talk about the sort of season he has had?
A: The fact that we haven't been a dominant running team, we've had defenders hurt, we've had to comeback in so many games, we've had a lot of fourth-quarter comebacks . . . I think you could make a case for it.
Q: Has he been different this year? Anything stand out?
A: Not from our standpoint. But I think the games have been different – being down 15 (at Minnesota), being down 17 points at Houston, being tied and winning it at San Diego – having to direct a field-goal drive to win it against New England – we've had a lot of those situations where they've been tight games and we've had to make plays.
Q: As a team, the Colts never really have had a year in recent seasons where they've won in so many different ways. There's really not any one particular trait you hang your hat on with this team and say, 'Yes, that's it. That's what makes it good . . .'
A: We're finding the right element. In 2005 and 2006, to a great extent, it was, 'Get off to a fast start, move the ball, score a couple of touchdowns in the first quarter and a half, and have people throwing and kind of steamroll.' It hasn't been that way this year. We have had all these tight games and it has been pressure field goals. It has been defense. It has been two-minute defense. Whatever. It has been fun, because as a coach, that's what you're selling. You need every element to be ready, but it hasn't always been that way in the last few years.
Q: At first during this six-game winning streak, there was a feeling that the team was just trying to get a victory, then another, then another. Now that you can kind of look back over the whole thing, does anything stand out?
A: The biggest thing was penalties and big plays going against us defensively – untimely penalties on offense, turnovers, untimely penalties on defense and big plays. We just said that would be a matter of technique and working on our fundamentals to eliminate those. Once we did, we gave ourselves a chance to win every week. When you have a chance to win, you don't always win them all, but we have in this case. When we've gotten close, we've made the plays to win.
Q: It's always the little things that make the difference, isn't it?
A: We were at Green Bay and I think we were down seven. We had the 3rd-and-1 and we false started. The next play was an interception for a touchdown. You say it's a lot of things and all of a sudden you're 14 points behind, but if you don't have the false start, you're probably going to make a first down. The whole drive is different. If you kick a field goal or score, the game is completely different. Little mistakes, self-destruction, is usually what gets you in those situations.
Q: And that pretty much defines your philosophy as a coach . . .
A: Very much so. Learning how to not beat yourself is the first lesson. If you don't beat yourself, you're going to be in most games and you're going to win your share if you have good enough players. So many teams don't figure out until it's too late how to not beat yourself.
Q: When did that start meaning so much to you? Was that (Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame Coach) Chuck Noll who preached that?
A: It was, very much so – the way he coached us and the way he talked. We had a lot of star power and a lot of mega-talented players, but he always talked about the fundamentals and he talked about how you won, and that sunk in with me. I saw, too, at Kansas City: Marty (Schottenheimer) was the same way, very much a detail-oriented guy. Denny (Green) was (in Minnesota). These people had come from winning situations. Denny used to talk about the (San Francisco) 49ers of the 1980s and 1990s, of just having the poise to play your game week in and week out. Most people couldn't stand up to that.
Q: At 3-4, observers were trying to figure out, 'What's wrong with the Colts?' And as is so often the case, it's the details . . .
A: The frustrating thing this was how with Chicago, we fumbled and they ran it in for a touchdown. Against Jacksonville, it was the same thing – an interception for a touchdown. We had the penalty I talked about at Green Bay. We had a 4th-and-1 and a 4th-and-2 at Tennessee that we didn't convert. We had a penalty where were off the field and we had the lead and we got an illegal contact penalty. Nobody looks at those things as big things. They're looking at this run or this long pass or whatever.
Q: Your approach to the last three weeks is you've just got to get in and get that fifth seed. That's pretty much the mission, isn't it?
A: Right now, we're not on the edge of being out, but if you lose one game, you are, so that has to be our goal, is to keep winning so that we're not one play away from being out. That's why (the) five (seed) is better than six.
Q: The obvious question this week will be about playing the 0-13 Detroit Lions. As was the case this past week, record really won't come into play in preparation or focus, will it?
A: It shouldn't. There will be a lot of talk about them and what's happening with Detroit, but for us, it's Game 14 that we have to win. That's the only way we should look at it.