A Weekly Conversation with Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
Each week during the 2008 postseason, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy will discuss topics pertinent to the Colts with Colts.com.
Question: You spent Monday preparing for the Colts' seventh playoff appearance in as many years, and you have been to the playoffs an NFL record 10 consecutive seasons as a head coach. Is this year any different?
A: No. It's exciting and it's a challenge. You know you have tough teams. You look at the group and you say, 'Who would I like to play?' There's nobody where you say, 'Hey, let's go play these guys.' That's really the way it is in the playoffs. Everybody is good. Everybody is battle-tested and somebody is going to fight their way through three games.
Q: People look at the playoffs this year and say that it's more balanced than years past. But is that a perception-versus-reality thing? It's always balanced, and there really aren't upsets, are there?
A: It's always pretty balanced. We were 14-2 (in 2005) and we got beat and people thought, 'Oh, it's a big upset,' but Pittsburgh was a very good team. They were a six seed and good enough to win a Super Bowl. Most of the time it is that way.
Q: It seems eventually people would realize that in the playoffs, upsets are the norm and that there's no such thing as a huge favorite . . .
A: You just have to look at this year. Carolina was a field goal away from being the one seed (in the NFC), then they're almost the sixth seed. We were a couple of plays away from being the one seed. That's the way it is most of the time. You earn the one seeds and the one seeds this year have earned them. But are they that much better than everyone else? Probably not.
Q: You always have said teams are defined by what they do in November and December, and that the NFL is often about having to win games in those months to decide your playoff fate. As much as any season since you've been here, that really held true, didn't it?
A: This really is what it's all about. We haven't necessarily experienced it the last couple of years. We've been fortunate and gotten out to those hot starts, but that's the way it is and what San Diego has done (making the playoffs with a four-game season-ending winning streak) is not that much out of the ordinary. Philly did it this year and several teams have done it – you hang in there, go through adversity, then you play well and get hot down the stretch. The (New York) Giants did it last year (en route to winning the Super Bowl).
Q: The Colts won eight consecutive games to clinch their playoff seeding, and then were able to rest some players against the Titans Sunday. Did that scenario play out to your advantage?
A: It was great for us. To win that game in Jacksonville (on December 18 to clinch the No. 5 seed) was really big. Because you're not going in feeling like, 'We've had eight straight playoff games already.' You have to play some guys and take a little breather and regroup. If that game (against Tennessee Sunday) had been for all of the marbles, then coming back on Saturday would be different.
Q: You just mentioned it, but for eight games, there was a lose-and-go-home feeling. How good was it to have that week and have a chance to gather yourselves?
A: It was good, and the fact that they still practiced well that week and came out and played well, even though we were a little bit more relaxed – that says a lot about this group. I have been proud of them. We've had a goal and a focus from the first Tennessee game (on October 27) on, and they were able to stay with it.
Q: You mentioned a 23-0 victory over the Titans Sunday. When you have playoff positioning clinched, people tend to discount anything that happens in the game. But you liked that the team was focused and played with intensity in the situation . . .
A: That's what you try to establish, that you have your focus and you have things you want to accomplish and a way you want to play. Fortunately, we had a lot of young guys who got a chance to play and wanted to show what they could do. We had our veteran group where we talked about, 'Hey, let's play a good first couple of series and get off to a good start.' We were able to do that. Is it going to have any bearing on the next time we play Tennessee? No, but doing your job – what you're supposed to do that week – is still what the game is all about.
Q: There's such quick turnover in the NFL these days that the leaders in a locker room change often, but you really do have a group that leads here. And that group took the situation Sunday – being able to secure a 12th victory and maintaining momentum – very seriously . . .
A: That's one of the benefits we've had and one of the things you lose with free agency. With free agency, you don't have a lot of those guys for a number of years. We've been able to have that from the time I got here – (quarterback) Peyton (Manning), (center) Jeff (Saturday), (punter) Hunter Smith, (long snapper) Justin Snow. (Defensive ends) Raheem (Brock) and (defensive end) Dwight (Freeney) came that year. So, you have some guys who have been here seven years. They know the way we do things and they keep that going. Then, you have the next wave of guys – (middle linebacker and team captain) Gary Brackett and (defensive end) Robert Mathis – those guys who have come in: (tight end) Dallas Clark) and (safety) Bob Sanders. We built that and it's not that way everywhere. You may have one or two of those guys and then you have some good leaders. Like (longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback) Brett Favre, even though he had played 16 years, he was trying to come in (this season) and learn how the Jets were doing things. You have that leadership, but it's not the same. That's one of the things we've been able to have throughout this free-agency period and it has helped us.
Q: It's hard to imagine you pulling off the nine consecutive victories this season with the sort of pressure under which you were playing without that leadership . . .
A: It was going to be critical this season, yes.
Q: Did you consciously lean on it, or was it just there when you needed it?
A: Those guys have it. When things are going well and we are on a six-, seven-game winning streak, they're the ones who are preaching, 'Hey, here's how we got on this streak and here's how we have to keep it going.' When we're 3-4 or 3-3, then it's, 'Hey, here's how we get it back and here's how you have to practice and here's how you have to fight through it.' Watching guys like (eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver) Marvin Harrison, the way they practice regardless of the situation, that's imant for the young guys to see.
Q: Colts President Bill Polian talked last week about how the performance this season of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning belonged with some of the great seasons at the position in NFL history. You played the position and have been around the NFL for three decades. What are your thoughts on Manning's performance in the last two months?
A: I'd have to say it is (among the great seasons) because of how it has come about. Probably, if you just saw the games and just chronicled the games you wouldn't necessarily say so. But what we're used to: the timing and the precision – not having that and not having the practice time and not having the same guys – the way it has been constructed, to put up the numbers and the wins, it has been pretty special.
Q: Not to overstate the obvious, but he has done what he has done when the Colts needed it most. Indianapolis was 3-4, and in the last nine games, he has thrown 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions to lead a nine-game winning streak . . .
A: That's the special part of it.
Q: And as you said, there's more to it than simply numbers in this case . . .
A: Much more. That has been the impressive thing – keeping everybody going and accepting the pressure. He said, 'OK, we're going to have to win every week. The quarterback's going to have to play well. I'm not going to be able to have an off week if we want to get to our goals.' He thrived in that environment.
Q: You've discussed this before, but the nine-game winning streak has been remarkable because it was done in a fashion that was unusual for the Colts. They were close games, often defensive-oriented games. It was very much a winning streak of a mature team, was it not?
A: The way the games have played, the way people have played us and the way we've had to win, it hasn't been the explosive 17-point first-quarters and then seeing what happens. It has been fighting through and making plays, then having to have long drives. It has been different.
Q: As you enter the postseason for a seventh consecutive year with the Colts, what do you think of this bunch? It's a pretty battle-tested group . . .
A: It's tenacity and staying the course and fighting through things. I think we're going to have some storms in San Diego. I think we'll come through them and we'll continue to fight and no matter how the game is being played out, we'll believe we can win. We'll be tough to beat.
Q: You were asked last week about the way the playoffs are seeded. Even though the Colts will be the No. 5 seed despite tying for the conference's second-best record, you agree that division champions should play at home in their first playoff game . . .
A: That's the way it was put to us. Your task is if you want a home game, you have to win your division. That's the way it is, so it's not even worth a second thought. Now, if you're thinking about expanding to 18 (regular-season) games and you want to have more meaningful games at the end of the year, then you can talk about, 'OK, for that reason, we want to make it so the record is what counts, because then you will have that division team that has 10 wins and they have to keep winning to stay ahead of someone else – then you can make the games more meaningful.' If that's the reason for it, that might be something we have to explore if we go to 18 games. I would hope they wouldn't change it just because this team won 12 and this team won nine. That, to me, is not a reason to change, but it would make probably for having less games that don't mean anything at the end of the year.