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 31-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday not only clinched a seventh consecutive playoff appearance for the Colts, it secured the No. 5 seed in the AFC. It put the Colts in a familiar position Sunday – playing a late-season game with no playoff implications, but beyond that, what do you want to get out of this week?
Answer: For us, the big thing is to keep the momentum going. Obviously, we have won eight straight, so you want to rest your guys who need rest, but you want to keep playing better and not let any of that momentum dwindle away. It's kind of a tough balancing act. We went through this with Denver a couple of years ago where you may play them again in two weeks, so you have to think that process through. You want to win and want to keep the momentum going. You want to send a message that they can't come into your place and beat you, but you have other things you have to think about to get ready. We'll balance it out and the big thing is for us to have really good practices. We've had four days off, so we have to get back in the mode of playing again.
Q: You've gone through this a lot in recent years, and you know the story: when you rest players and win, it's brilliant. When you rest players and lose in the postseason, it's a different reaction.
A: That's the bottom line. If you win, everybody's going to say you did the right thing. If you don't win, that's the reason why, so you can't worry about it. You have to do what you feel is best for your team. You know your guys – who needs to play and who needs to rest – and you go from there.
Q: You clinched playoff positioning before the end of the season in years past – 2004, 2005 and 2007. Is this year any different in any way?
A: It's a little different theory, because in 2004, we were coming back and playing back-to-back weekends, so it's more like '04 than any other time. In '05 and '07, it was a little different, because you were going to have another week off – sort of what Tennessee is facing. In '04, we had a good idea we were going to play Denver, then come back and play them again the very next week. This one, we know we're going to play in a week. We won't have a week off. You have to rest up your guys that need to rest, and take care of the injured guys. That's No. 1.
Q: So, it's a little more like playing through the end of the season and having a first-round bye, in a sense . . .
A: You want to stay sharp. You want to keep improving. You want to win the game. There's still that part of it. We'd like to win 12 games. No one has done that before. We'd like to do that, and we'd like to avenge our earlier loss (at Tennessee in late October). So, there are a lot of reasons to play well and win the game, so we're going to try to do that.
Q: No team has swept the Colts in the regular season since the Titans did it in 2002 . . .
A: You don't want to let that happen. I just think that winning is always better than losing. You want to keep that feeling of winning. You want to play well and you want to improve your performance.
Q: The fact that the Titans have clinched home-field advantage and also have no playoff implications entering the game – does that change how you approach it?
A: You don't know how the other team's going to play. We had Jacksonville and Detroit, who weren't really playing for anything and they came out and played great football, so you can't look at the other team and what they might be. The only thing we are going to have to get ready for is (Titans backup quarterback) Vince Young. Obviously, with them clinching they could want to get him some work and that could be a completely different offense that we might see, so we may have to look at that, but other than that, we just have to expect to get Tennessee's best game.
Q: The Colts have won eight consecutive games and it has been a different sort of streak than past seasons. Six of the eight games were decided by seven points or less, and two of the games were decided by defensive touchdowns . . .
A: It really was (different). There were a lot of different elements contributing and everybody was feeling like they had to do the job every week. We had a low-scoring game in Cleveland, a high-scoring game the other night (against Jacksonville). We had home games, road games, field goals at the end to win it. Everybody contributed. That was a great feeling.
Q: This seemed like more the sort of winning streaks you might have had during your time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers . . .
A: It was much more like that. You expect to win and you expect everybody to contribute. You don't know how the game's going to go, but somewhere along the line in the fourth quarter, you're going to get a big play from someone. Everybody kind of approaches it that way and expects to be the one to make that big play.
Q: You set a record for most consecutive seasons coaching a team to the playoffs with 10. Every one of the seasons is different to you, and special in a unique way, isn't it? It's tough just to get there.
A: It really is. You look at New England – they could be 11-5 and really sitting there (on Sunday) with nothing they can do. If Miami wins, even if they (the Patriots) win 11 games, they're out, so every year is different. Every year takes on a different dynamic. To make it, you need a lot of things to go your way. You need good concentration and good effort from your players. But that still doesn't guarantee that you get in sometimes. You have to be thankful when you do get in.
Q: Every year you say that you really don't know what games are going to be big. This year, it turned out the New England, Houston and Baltimore games were huge, and maybe when those games were played, some weren't ones people focused on that much . . .
A: Every game is imant. You never know what's going to be the big play or the big game. We kind of knew after we were 3-4 that a lot of those games were going to be important, but you don't know how big that win in Houston is or the win against Baltimore. You just can't take anything for granted.
Q: The Colts and Titans are obviously big rivals and division opponents, but they also seem like the kind of team you might admire. They have been faced with some adversity over the years, but just keep on doing things their way . . .
A: They have had a spectacular year, and other than maybe (running back) Chris Johnson, they're getting a lot of contributions from a lot of people. They played their biggest game of the year (a 31-14 victory over Pittsburgh Sunday) without their two best defensive players (defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth) and defensive end (Kyle Vanden Bosch) and they forced all of the takeaways and they won the ballgame. It's not (former first-round selections) Vince Young and Pacman Jones and Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch. It's a lot of guys and that's the mark of a great team.
Q: That's kind of what separates teams, isn't it?
A: If you look at it, New England, Pittsburgh, us in 2006, the (New York) Giants last year. There has been a lot of that. That's what you have to have to win. That's what you try to instill in your team.
Q: As is the case every year, people are talking about how even the postseason is, and its wide-open nature. Do you see it being different than past seasons?
A: It's how it is every year. There have been a couple of years where all the way through it looked like, 'Hey, it's going to be New England or Indy,' but most of the time it's not. Most of the time, it's No. 1 seeds struggling, getting upset. People kind of take a four-week period and say, 'This is the best team,' then, 'No, this is the best team.' A lot of times, they don't see the New York Giants or Pittsburgh or us coming and that's the way it is a lot more often than the other side when you say, 'Oh, these two teams are going to meet in the Super Bowl,' and they end up getting there. That's rarer and rarer in this day and age. I can't remember the last time you felt going into the playoffs that, 'These two teams should win it' and they did get there. That's salary-cap football, I think.
Q: Now that you're in the playoffs, and you've run the winning streak to eight games, how would you define this team as it enters the postseason?
A: For us, it was really just perseverance. It wasn't just a dominating performance in any one area. Our passing game got hot down the stretch, but it wasn't that any one area carried the team. When we took care of the ball better, that was probably the biggest thing that got us going on our streak, and I guess that was the satisfying thing – that it was different every week.
Q: The Colts have been ranked well outside the Top 10 offensively the entire season. That's a foreign concept to this team, yet the Colts have a chance Sunday to win a 12th game for an NFL-record sixth consecutive season . . .
A: It's satisfying, because the things you preach about how to win – you see the team kind of believe in it and do it. You see it done that way as opposed to, 'Hey, we won and it was always going to be just because of our passing game or because of our pass rush or one element of the game was going to be so dominant we would win.' It was field goal teams and kickoff coverage and defense one week. Then, another week it was red-zone defense and scoring when we needed it, takeaways when we needed it and guys like (cornerback) Keiwan (Ratliff), who was released and then brought back and now is making key plays. It has been different people – (tight end) Gijon Robinson stepping up and catching balls in Detroit and getting a game ball. Having everybody contribute is a lot more special.