INDIANAPOLIS – On Wednesday, Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney strolled into the Colts locker room and was surrounded by a media contingent eager to get his thoughts.
The group wanted his opinion on the team's 0-2 start. The group wanted to know how he felt about it. The people assembled quizzed him on Kerry Collins, Ben Roethlisberger, the mindset of the team, if he viewed Sunday as a chance to prove something to naysayers, on if he worried about the team's perception, if he liked prime-time.
The questions went on and on and on.
Freeney has been a dominant force on the club's defense for 10 years now. He always has been a vibrant voice in the locker room and a regular and energetic participant in interviews.
He is as comfortable in that setting as he has made opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable with his menacing presence on game days.
The former legendary NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle used to tell media masses at Super Bowls to 'fire away.' Freeney may not have said it as such, but he welcomed the opportunity to share his beliefs.
Freeney agreed Sunday's game is a 'big' game, but not for the reasons which the crowd around him alluded.
"It's the next game, which is the biggest game for us. We want to get back on track and get a win," Freeney said while keeping cool, having fun and controlling the moment. He knows the team's record is different than past seasons, and he would like a different result on Sunday for many reasons, with one being an end to the types of questions he was getting.
"It's somewhat unfamiliar but I think one year we were 1-3, or something like that," said Freeney. "So it's been a little worse as far as the loss column. You never want to be in this situation. We're going to hope that we get things corrected this week, so we don't have to wait another week to talk about 'this next week.' "
Observers around the team have asked before if the absence of Peyton Manning is placing more pressure on the defense to perform. The topic is one Freeney and his teammates have addressed, and it changes their jobs not a bit in the least.
"No. No more pressure than any other game for us. It doesn't change," said Freeney. "That would imply that in other games we have our hands behind our head and our feet up like it doesn't matter. That's not our mentality around here. Regardless of who we're playing, who we have, how many points we're scoring on offense or not scoring, or whatever. It's us trying to keep them from scoring."
"Them" this week is the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that presents challenges in every phase of play. Freeney is aware of what club faces.
"Ben (Roethlisberger) makes so many plays with his feet. When things break down for them as an offense, he does a great job, probably as good as or better than anyone I've seen," said Freeney. "I mean he's up there, as far as making plays and buying time and being devastating to a defense. We understand a little bit of what they do and what he tries to do. We have to take 11 guys or maybe a couple of extra to hone things up.
"Historically, Pittsburgh has always had a great running game. I think it's in their blood of what they do, great defense, great running game. It's going to be a challenge again. We have to step up to that challenge."
The people surrounding Freeney peppered him with questions about the team's start and if it is tough to stay positive. Freeney knows the start is slower than team aspired to have, but he knows it's early and the team knows how to handle it.
"0-2? When you have 14 more games, it's kind of ridiculous to write someone off in two games," he said. "You (people outside the team) can have an opinion. You can say, 'I don't think they will be good this year.' It's not a fact until it's a fact. I think that's what our mentality is around here. That's honestly how we think.
"The way we're trained around here is to have the mindset that, 'It's never as good as people say it is, or it's never as bad as people say it is, it's somewhere in the middle.' We believe that."
Sunday's contest is one of five nationally-televised games for Indianapolis in 2011. The club traditionally has fared well on the national stage, and Freeney likes the forum.
"I always have, always have, the bright lights, the moon is out," said Freeney about playing in prime-time. "It definitely gets my blood going. I move a lot quicker, a lot faster. Usually it's the early games we have a problem with. Games like this, it's added (atmosphere).
Freeney was asked if the Sunday prime-time stage would provide a chance for the club to address possible perceptions of the club. Despite the added atmosphere, he isn't concerned with anything beyond the club's performance.
"To be honest, I don't care what anybody thinks outside of this locker room," said Freeney. "Now that being said, yes, this is an opportunity. One game doesn't decide that either. We could win this game, then the next game, lose. What does that mean? That one televised game doesn't (decide it). It's 14 games and you add them at the end. That's what it's going to take. We have to get some consistent football. This is the next challenge. This is the next step to doing so. It's very important to play well, nationally-televised or not."
As for Collins, Freeney knows the 17-year veteran is in a learning process with his new team, and he likes what he has seen.
"Kerry's in a real tough situation, obviously, because of the fact that Peyton has done great so many years and people expect that type of level," said Freeney. "Throwing him in when he's only had three games in, really two, and trying to learn a complex offense like we have, it's tough. He's done a pretty good job. If he feels more comfortable, that's even better. The more comfortable he feels the better he and the offense is going to do. I have complete confidence that things will turn around. He's burned us a couple of times (with other teams), and it's no mistake he's been in the league for as long as he's been. He's had to do some things good."