Q: A 28-16 victory over the Denver Broncos Sunday. Colts not only clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, they set an NFL record for victories in a decade (114) and consecutive regular-season victories (22). Quite a day . . ..
A: It's a milestone day by any measure. When you think about how infrequently you can get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – that in itself in an incredible achievement. To do it in the AFC, which is the tougher conference, is an equally incredible achievement. To put yourself in the history books with 22 straight victories . . . all records are made to be broken and somebody will come along and break that, but it may be a while before anyone does. It's really nice to be part of that. Then, the most wins in a decade is really something. To think you can win more games in a decade than the legendary San Francisco 49ers, I almost can't come to grips with that. To think you have eclipsed a record that that great team – with (quarterback) Joe Montana and (Jerry) Rice and (quarterback) Steve Young and all of those players – set is absolutely amazing. I almost can't get my arms around it, but it's a monumental achievement and one I hope people in Indianapolis will remember for a long, long time.
Q: In the last 100 games, the Colts have won 81. That also ties an all-time league record. There have been other good teams, but there's usually a hiccup somewhere. With the Colts, there hasn't been.
A: No, there has not. That's a tribute to our players. It's a tribute to our coaching staff. It's a tribute to our owner, to our organization, that there has been this sustained excellence. This is uncharted territory in terms of wins and longevity and sustained excellence in a system that is designed to handicap you, to make sure that sustained excellence does not take place. I've always said to people around here, when we talk to the administrative staff once or twice a year, 'Celebrate victories; celebrate achievement.' We have reason to celebrate now. We have a ballgame coming up in three days, which is typical of the schedule-maker, but it is really an incredible string of success. And at the heart of it lies (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim Irsay and his commitment to excellence.
Q: And as quarterback Peyton Manning mentioned Sunday, it's about a lot more than the players currently on the roster, isn't it?
A: "Let's start with (former Colts defensive end) Chad Bratzke (1999-2002), a guy who came in here as a free agent and we said to him, 'Chad, you have to help change the culture. You have to help bring some of what made the (New York) Giants great here – work ethic, dedication, toughness.' He brought all of that. He is typical. You can go on and on – (linebacker) David Thornton, name after name after name. Guys who have contributed to this who rightly deserve to be very proud of what they achieved, because it's their achievement as well.
Q: Any idea how you will approach resting or not resting players in the coming weeks?
A: Let's talk football rather than issues that are raised by other people. We have won 13 in a row because we have focused only on the next game. We haven't focused on history. We haven't focused on conjecture. We haven't focused on what the latest story of the week is. We've focused on only what we can do to make sure we are the best team we possibly can be, whoever the next opponent happens to be. That happens to be the Jacksonville Jaguars on a very short week. That is where we're focusing. We're not thinking beyond Jacksonville. The question then is, 'Who is healthy and who is not healthy?' We can't determine that really until we leave for Jacksonville. We'll have to get two days of practice in on Tuesday and Wednesday. We'll see where we are at that point. Our plan as (Colts Head Coach) Jim (Caldwell) enunciated Monday is to play every healthy starter. The question is, 'Who's going to be healthy?' I can't answer that for you right now, because this is a short week. I'll give you an example: (left tackle) Charlie Johnson played hurt this past Sunday because of all that was at stake in that ballgame, and he went through considerable pain to play. There are others. I'm just using Charlie as an example. If this upcoming game were on Sunday, I would fully expect that Charlie would make it. I don't know if he'll make it based upon the short week, and on the road certainly makes it doubly difficult. In any event, the bottom line is, 'All healthy starters will play,' and we'll determine as the week goes on who's healthy enough to play and who is not. Our focus is on Jacksonville, and we're not going to deal with anything else but Jacksonville, and the players are not going to deal with anything else but Jacksonville. We're going to focus exactly on that, because that's what got us here. The great coach at Texas, Darrell Royal, who in addition to being a Hall of Fame coach was a homespun philosopher, said, 'Dance with who brung you.' That's what we're going to do. What brought us here to 13 victories is total focus on the next opponent, and that's where we're going to be.
Q: Not to criticize running back Chad Simpson, but the kickoff returns haven't been great this season. Any thoughts on him and that area?
A: The only criticism that bothers the players comes from the coaches. Everything else is meaningless because they recognize that's how their bread is buttered. That's how we win. With respect to Chad, first of all, he is an outstanding, well-above-average, difference-making cover guy on the kickoff coverage team and on the punt coverage team. He's a difference-maker. So, that in itself points to the fact that you like to have him up if at all possible. As a kickoff return guy, if he can get in a crease, he can go the distance. I've seen him do that in college on numerous occasions. The problem is the new rule. If Chad were running behind a four-man wedge and just looking for daylight, he would be dynamite. In this particular case, he has to read blocks on the run and that's not something he's used to doing. We're hopeful he will get better at it, and it's a new rule, so we're a little bit of a work in progress in terms of what we think may or may not be the optimum way to block kickoff returns. Chad is a valuable, valuable special teams performer in addition to being a good running back when he runs from scrimmage. His value on special teams is very, very high.
Q: Speaking of special teams, that really has been an improved area this season.
A: It has, and if you were going to have an All-Rookie kicker – and I don't know who votes for the All-Rookie teams I don't even know who's on them. If there were going to be an All-Rookie kicker, it would be Pat McAfee. He has punted magnificently, and he has kicked off magnificently. He has been a big part of that equation, in addition to which (special teams coordinator) Ray Rychleski has brought a little more aggressive scheme. He has those guys fired up and flying – led by Chad, who gets double-teamed virtually every week. Then, other players are coming in there, helping out and making plays. It has been a great year for our coverage units. To shut down (Broncos returner) Eddie Royal Sunday…he is a heck of a return guy. He's a dynamic return guy and he's a dynamic receiver. We did a wonderful job in limiting him Sunday. It wasn't easy. It required lots and lots of hard work.
Q: A few weeks ago, McAfee made a big-time stop on a kickoff return . . .
A: The play was designed to put that player one-on-one with Pat, and he made the play. How many kickers can make that play one-on-one with a returner? (He's a) great athlete.
Q: Do you worry about losing momentum if the Colts rest starters?
A: Let me try and deal as (former Colts Head Coach) Tony Dungy was fond of saying in reality rather than perception. Perception can be anything anyone wants it to be. Reality is cold, hard facts. I'm going to recite this from memory, because losses like the Pittsburgh (in an AFC Divisional Playoff game following the 2005 season) loss stay with you over time. In that ballgame, the Steelers came out and essentially reversed the offensive approach that they took in the game where we had beaten them rather decisively around Thanksgiving on Monday Night Football. It took us the better part of a half to get adjusted in terms of how we defensed them. Then, at that point, we got our sea legs back under us and played pretty good football all the way to the end. By the way, that year we beat Arizona in our last game in a very thrilling game, 17-13, which (backup quarterback) Jim Sorgi happened to play the bulk of. But the vast majority of the defense was out there and (middle linebacker) Rob Morris made a big interception or tackle to end the game on a great defensive play. So, we had momentum, if you will – whatever that is – going into the playoffs. So, that's Point One. Point Two is if you go through the quarter-by-quarter score, we were down at the half and when (middle linebacker) Gary Brackett made the incredible play to strip the Bus (Jerome Bettis) on the goal line. At that point in time a touchdown would have won the game for us. Our corner, Nick Harper, had received two injections at halftime because of pulled muscles. He was a bit crippled up and (Steelers) quarterback (Ben) Roethlisberger was able to tackle him and prevent a touchdown. Had any other player other than Nick picked that ball up – had (safety) Bob Sanders, for example, picked it up – it's a touchdown and we win the game. But we then took the ball over with a little more than a minute to go in the game – 1:30, if I'm not mistaken. We drove the ball down to the point where I believe we had a 46-yard field goal – a makeable field goal in the 40-yard range. Indoors, 45 or 46 yards is very makeable. That was to tie the game and send it into overtime. Most people who were at the game and remember it distinctly, all talk about the fact that if the field goal had been good, all the momentum was on our side. We had changed the momentum in the game. We had taken over the game. We had begun to shut them down defensively, and we were moving the ball offensively. We missed the field goal. Pittsburgh won the game, 21-18, and they went on to win the Super Bowl. Now, in addition to those facts – these are the facts, nothing more and nothing less – you will also remember that was the year of the tragedy in Tony's family. I can tell you that experience – having to leave here, go to the funeral, deal with the tragedy and the shock of a loss of a friend for most of the players – really took a big toll on us. How much? I don't know, but certainly a heck of a lot more than not playing everybody in the last game against Arizona. Now, let's talk football. Can you stay sharp by practicing and not playing for a week or two during the regular season? This is a hypothetical question. I hasten to add that I stand on what I said at the outset: we're going to play Jacksonville, and then when that game is over, we'll get ready to play whoever the next opponent is. When that game is over, we'll get ready to play the next opponent, and that will be our only thought. But you asked the question and you deserve an answer. There is no such thing as rust for a professional football player who practices at full level at this time of the season. They have played, to date, 17 football games. You don't forget how to play football because you might only get to play a half of one football game. And you certainly don't forget how to play football – and you do not get any rust on you – when you are practicing full time every day. The only time we worry about 'rust', and that's a perception phrase, we call it a lack of timing – the only time we worry about that is if a player is out three weeks or more. That's the dividing line for us, and that's based on scientific studies that we have done that tell us when a player begins to lose sharpness, hand-eye coordination, etc., etc. Three weeks is about the dividing line and that would mean three weeks of no practice, not three weeks of practice and limited play in a game. If that were the case, by the way, no one would be ready to play on opening day, because we don't play anyone in the last preseason game and they play only a half in the third preseason game. When last I looked, we were the most successful team in the National Football League in this decade in the early part of the season. The bottom line is the facts belie all of the perception and conjecture that is out there. I hope I answered the question in a factual manner. Having said that, we're not even concerned about it. You deserve an answer to the question, and I hope I gave you a good one. I certainly gave you a factual one, but the fact of the matter is, we're not concerned about it. That's someone else's agenda and someone else's issue, someone else's perception. It doesn't affect us. We're working on Jacksonville.
Q: Manning said this week he sort of wishes the Colts didn't reveal so much about their approach before games this time of year. Any thoughts?
A: I agree with Peyton. I wish we did not have to discuss it, and I made a vow with myself Sunday night that I would no longer discuss it. But we are constrained by a very strict NFL injury rule, which carries with it severe sanctions if you even violate a comma or semi-colon in the rule in which you have to report players' health status and whether or not they are probable, questionable or doubtful – probably being 75 percent chance they'll play, questionable being 50 percent chance they'll play and doubtful being 25 percent chance they'll play. Believe it or not, we were required to submit an injury report form Monday even though we did not practice, and we didn't see the doctors until an injury report had to be filed. Why that is is beyond me, but we did it, because we're required to. The issue of who will play, as I said earlier, will be determined very likely Wednesday and maybe even Thursday, depending on how players who are injured and nicked up – how they feel and whether or not they can go. Those are going to be game-time decisions. Peyton will feel good about that, because we're not going to have any reason to address that because we won't have knowledge enough to address it. It's a very short week and one that causes us lots of difficulty in terms of being able to know who's going to play and who's not. That's basically the reason we do it. Given our druthers, we'd like to announce it at game time too, the rule precludes that.
Q: Has there been any thought given to having Pierre Garcon or Austin Collie return kicks or punts?
A: You may remember Pierre returned kickoffs last year and did it quite well. Austin, to my knowledge, is a very good punt returner, and I don't remember him in college doing a lot of kickoff returning. That's a little different kettle of fish, as you recall, particularly because of the new rule. That's a good thought in both guys' case. However, you worry about receivers of that nature – who are that good and who are such integral parts of of your team – getting nicked up or people taking shots at them in the return game, especially since both guys are rather tall fellows. Eddie Royal, in my opinion, is the ideal size to do it. He's compact, and he's short, so it's very difficult to get a big hit on him. You're almost always of necessity getting a glancing blow, so he can be the third receiver or even the second receiver, which he is, and be an exceptional return man. It's harder for a taller man to do it because there's more surface to hit and more chance of injuries, so you worry some about it. How we would structure during the playoffs, that's an issue we'll deal with come playoff time.
Q: Collie made a big-time play to get a first down in the fourth quarter Sunday . . .
A: (Senior Offensive Coordinator) Tom Moore has a way of putting it in a very succinct manner. He said, 'You play within the system, and the system will take you to the plays. The system will take you to the plays that work.' As long as everybody executes, and the timing is correct and everybody's on the same page, we're going to get open receivers. We had some timing issues Sunday. That had to do with the way they were playing defense. They are a tremendous defensive secondary, and as (Colts linebackers coach) Mike Murphy is fond of saying, 'The other team gets paid, too.' There's another team out there, so great credit to them for having a great game plan and executing it well. Austin was the guy who was going to get open in that situation. That's where the play was designed to go. We had to make up big yardage and Peyton drove it in there. Austin made the play, then a great run after the catch as well to put us in a position, then go run the ball and ice the game.
Q: Your son, Chris, was recently promoted to Vice President and General Manager. Can you comment on that?
A: I am very happy. It's a well-deserved promotion, and it's going to have our family associated with the (Jim) Irsay family for a long time to come, which is the way it should be – and what Jim Irsay has always preached. So, I'm thrilled about it.
Q: Can you comment on the play of defensive tackles Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster. None were drafted by the Colts, yet all are key players . . .
A: Chris, (Pro Scout) Kevin Rogers and all the guys in pro personnel are responsible for the acquisition of Danny Muir and (Antonio) Mookie Johnson. Those were in-season acquisitions last year. We lost both of our defensive tackles, and they have made the biggest difference on our defense. Clint (Session) is a special player and Gary (Brackett), of course, has been a special player for a long time, but those players at defensive tackle – along with (Eric) Foster – have made a tremendous difference. Foster was a collegiate free agent from Rutgers, which is a tribute to (Director of Player Personnel) Tom Telesco and (former Vice President of Player Personnel) Dom Anile before him and the great college scouting staff we have. I was looking over a statistic Monday that is produced by the NFL: we lead the league in undrafted collegiate free agents, so great credit to both scouting staffs, pro and college.
Q: Can you comment on what Muir had to do to go from where he was last season to how he is contributing now?
A: He had to do a lot of work. Lord knows what he weighed – I'm guessing in the 320-330 range. I can't quite remember what it was, but it was up there. He had to remake himself in the offseason to get in the 310 range that he is now. In addition, he had to completely unlearn techniques that couldn't be more wrong for the defense we play, (techniques) that fit for the 3-4. They were diametrically opposed – 180 degrees apart. He put in a tremendous amount of time in-season last year and never did get on the field very much last year. Then (in the) off-season and coming into camp this year, he really has been dynamite for us. He's been a very, very good player. Mookie had an easier transition, because he was coming from a similar system in Tennessee, so the techniques were techniques he was familiar with. Danny had to go 180 degrees from what he had been in Green Bay, both from a body makeup standpoint and from a technical skills standpoint. Great credit to him. He did a terrific job. Kudo upon kudo to (defensive line coach) John Teerlinck for recognizing – just as Chris did – when they looked at the tape and looked at Danny, 'We've got something here. It's going to take him a while to get acclimated, but we've got something here.' John worked with him in the offseason, developed him into a very, very good football player.
Q: How much have the Jaguars changed from when the Colts saw them in the season opener?
A: They've changed a good bit in that both of the rookie tackles (Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton) are playing full-time and playing well. That has helped them run the ball, because they're both big guys and they're both strong guys. They have (Vince) Manuwai back at guard, who they did not have last year. He was just beginning to round into form when we played them early in the season on opening day. They still have (running back Maurice) Jones-Drew, who is one of the best backs in football. It's unfortunate that he doesn't get the credit he deserves. They've had a much better year than anyone predicted. You could have predicted that if you know (Jaguars Head Coach) Jack Del Rio and his devotion to detail and his devotion to tough, hard-nosed football. (Wide receiver) Torry Holt has been a great addition to their offensive system. (Wide receiver) Mike Sims-Walker, a rookie, has come out of virtually nowhere and has become a very credible receiver. Whether he will play or not (Thursday) remains to be seen. He has been bothered by a calf issue. Defensively, they're essentially a 3-4. Occasionally, they line up with four down and probably will against us when we go to the three-wide package, but they're really a good, solid, hard-nosed defense that can run and get after you, particularly in the secondary. The young man, (cornerback Derek) Cox, from William and Mary, a rookie who started against us opening day, just keeps getting better and better and better. They have improved greatly from what they were a year ago. You would expect that, knowing Jack and that organization. They're in the thick of the playoff hunt, so this is a very important game for them.
Q: And Colts players really want to play in this one.
A. That's exactly right. They want to play in the division, that's for sure.