Whatever the Outside Conversation, Colts Continue to Focus on Week at Hand
INDIANAPOLIS – Amid the growing peripheries, chatter and speculation, Peyton Manning said the process of focusing on what's imant is actually pretty simple.
Manning, in his 12th season as the Colts' quarterback, said not only does the Colts' first-year head coach, Jim Caldwell, never lose focus on the day-to-day, week-to-week priorities facing the team, but this week the focus is as simple as it has been in some time.
The Colts, Manning said, have succeeded all season by focusing on the small goals.
This week, the small goal would accomplish something else:
A pretty big regular-season goal.
"The idea is to win this game," Manning said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (12-0) prepared to play the Denver Broncos (8-4) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's going to be tough to accomplish that."
The Colts, who two weeks ago clinched their sixth AFC South title in seven seasons, on Sunday can clinch the AFC's top seed, something they have accomplished once before this decade, in 2005. The Colts also clinched the top seed that year in the 13th game of the season.
With the number one seed, the Colts would be assured of a first-round bye, a home game in the Divisional Playoff round, and – if they advanced that far – a home game in the AFC Championship Game.
"For the most part, we take things one week at a time," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "That's how we've always done it around here. Year in and year out we're 6-0, 7-0, 9-0. One year , we were 13-0.
"Our thing is to narrow your vision, worry about one game at a time. The rest will take care of itself."
After securing the division title and a playoff berth, the top seed is the Colts top regular-season priority, and that – not the talk among observers about being unbeaten – was what the Colts discussed Wednesday during media access at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"All we've talked about through the course of this season is trying to win the next game," said Manning, who has completed 322 of 460 passes for 3,685 yards and 25 touchdowns with 11 interceptions this season. "That's kind of been [Colts Head] Coach [Jim] Caldwell's approach. It's a philosophy that I really feel the team has bought into.
"We've had some interesting games, games where we were probably lucky to win, but somehow, someway, we made the play to get the win. We have not taken winning for granted around here. I feel the reason we have done a good job each week is we have moved on to the next opponent. We've had good weeks of preparation. . . .
"The goal for me has always been to win each week, especially when you're in the middle of the season. That's all we talk about, the upcoming opponent. The goal this week is to beat Denver, and it's going to be a challenge to try and do that."
The Colts, who last week tied the NFL record with their 21st consecutive regular-season victory, can move past the 2006-08 New England Patriots with a victory Sunday. A victory Sunday also would give the Colts 114 in this decade, which would move them into sole possession of first place on that NFL all-time list.
The San Francisco 49ers of the 1990s also won 113 games.
"Denver is the next team we play and it's going to be a battle because of how good their defense is, and they have a lot of playmakers on offense," Manning said. "That's really all we've talked about throughout the season, focusing on the next team, and it's been a good approach for us so far, and it's one that we're going to stick with."
The Colts are one of eight teams in NFL history to start a season 12-0, with one of the other teams being the 2005 Colts, who began the season 13-0. Whereas that Colts team won its first 13 games by seven or more points, this year's team has trailed in the second half six times, including a stretch of five consecutive games in November when it rallied for victories after trailing in the fourth quarter.
Asked if winning close games might help in the postseason, Manning said, "We haven't talked about that at all.
"Every game can help you for the next game, whether you have to make a critical third down to ice the game, or you have to get down into field-goal range to win the game or the defense has to make a goal line stand," Manning said. "I think, especially all of our young players, you learn something new each week, and I think you apply it the next week and you refer back to week three or whenever. That's part of football, drawing on previous games to hopefully help you win the next one."
The Broncos, after six consecutive victories to start the season, lost their next four to slip into second place in the AFC West. But they have won their last two games, not trailing against either the New York Giants or Kansas City Chiefs, to move into sole possession of first place in the AFC Wild Card standings.
They trail San Diego by one game in the West.
"When you pop the film on, you kind of see why: very experienced on defense," Manning said, adding of a defensive backfield that includes perennial Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and longtime veteran Ty Law. "It's hard to imagine a secondary I've ever played against that has this much experience.
"They're stingy against the pass, don't give up many points and they're going to be tough to move the ball against. We have our hands full just thinking about that."
The Colts issued the first injury report of the week on Wednesday with the following players listed as full participation in practice: LB-Gary Brackett (foot), DBs-Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), Kelvin Hayden (knee) and Tim Jennings (ankle), DE-Keyunta Dawson (knee), OGs-Kyle DeVan (shin) and Jamey Richard (shoulder), QB-Peyton Manning (glute), TE-Tom Santi (hand) and WR-Reggie Wayne (foot).
Listed as did not participate in practice were: DBs-Antoine Bethea (not injury related/rested) and Aaron Francisco (ankle), RB-Donald Brown (chest), DEs-Dwight Freeney (not injury related/rested) and Robert Mathis (quad), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), OTs-Charlie Johnson (foot) and Tony Ugoh (hip), LB-Clint Session (calf) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).