'THIS IS A PLAYOFF GAME'

The Colts on Sunday will play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars with first place in the AFC South at stake. 'You can put it anyway you want it,' Colts QB-Peyton Manning said.

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QB-Peyton Manning Says Colts Will Prepare for Jaguars Same As Always
INDIANAPOLIS – In a very real sense, Peyton Manning said it's not all that different.

Manning, in his 13th season as the Colts' quarterback, said while facing what is essentially a must-win situation Sunday in a home game against Jacksonville is different for the franchise in one way, it's also not as if the Colts haven't played critical games in December.

The Colts, Manning said, are accustomed to needing to win late in the season.

And that's what they must do Sunday.

"It's not really much of a difference," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (7-6) prepared to play the Jaguars (8-5) in a crucial AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I think people think we haven't played any meaningful games in December, and that's just not true. We've had a lot of imant games throughout the month of December that have been for either the division, or just to stay alive for home-field (advantage) – or whatever it may be.

"We've always had important games."

Still, Manning said the reality entering the weekend is clear.

"You can put it anyway you want it," he said. "This is a playoff game."

The scenarios are equally clear for each team.

The Jaguars, who never have won the AFC South in their previous eight seasons of existence, and haven't won a division title since winning the AFC Central in 1998 and 1999, can clinch the division with a victory Sunday. They last made the playoffs in 2007.

The Colts, who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, can win the division by winning their final three games. They play host to Jacksonville Sunday, visit Oakland (6-7) the following week then finish the regular season with a home game against Tennessee (5-8).

If the Jaguars and Colts finish tied at 10-6, the Colts will win the South because of a better record against common opponents.

"Every game is a real big game for us down this stretch," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "This one's huge. It's extremely important. Our job is to find a way to win it, so we're doing everything we can in terms of practice, but we're not doing anything any differently.

"That's how we've always approached things. This week's no different."

The Colts, who have made the post-season an NFL-best eight consecutive seasons, have won at least 10 games every season since making the playoffs as a wild-card entrant in 2002. They won the South in 2003-07 and last season, and also made the playoffs as a wild-card in 2008.

They have had a playoff position clinched entering the regular-season finale every season since 2002, and clinched home-field advantage with three games remaining in 2005 and last season.

The Colts have trailed in the AFC South in December only twice in the division's history – in 2002 and 2008.

"You still prepare with that same sense of urgency, and I think we've always prepared and played each opponent with the utmost respect," said Manning, who on Wednesday was named AFC Offensive Player-of-the- Week. "That's what we have to do this week. We have no choice. We have to have a good week of practice, and hope we transfer that to the playing field Sunday.

"They have a ton to play for, as do we. That's why I think it will be such a good ballgame. I think you'll see both teams laying it on the line."

The Colts, who lost three consecutive games and four of five, beat the Tennessee Titans, 30-28, in their last game. That game was played last Thursday, which Manning and Caldwell said could help the Colts in terms of allowing players rest and preparation time.

How much the time off will help in allowing injured players to return is less clear. The Colts have placed 15 players on season-ending injured reserve, including tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jerraud Powers, and they played the Titans without running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebacker Clint Session and wide receiver Austin Collie.

Collie practiced Wednesday for the Colts, and Session said Wednesday he is day-to-day, with Caldwell saying the status of the players will be determined later in the week.

Manning said regardless of who is available, the situation is the same: The Colts must prepare well and play well against a Jacksonville team that has won five of six games to move into first place in the AFC South in December for the first time in nine seasons.

"This is lose and be eliminated," Manning said. "Last week was as well, so we feel like this is kind of our second playoff game. That's the approach and that's how we have to prepare, with that kind of a sense of urgency.

"We're playing a Jacksonville team that's really hot and playing with a lot of momentum. They beat us the first time down there. We've always have close games with these guys home and away.

"That's what we expect this week."

Manning also on Wednesday addressed the end of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre's NFL-record consecutive games streak of 297. The streak ended Monday when Favre couldn't play against the New York Giants.

"I've always had just tremendous appreciation for that streak," Manning said. "I took time to realize just how amazing and impressive that it was. It's one of those things that I think when you just say it or write it – 297 consecutive games – doesn't do it justice.

"When you really think about just him being there for his teammates every single Sunday, that's really what it's been about. It's what he has done with those games. He has been there for his teammates and he has helped his team win a bunch of those games.

"It truly is amazing. I don't use that word a whole lot, but it is an amazing feat and streak. It's awfully impressive."

Manning's streak of 205 consecutive games is now the longest active streak in the NFL. He never has missed an NFL start.

"It's important to me to be there for my teammates every single Sunday," Manning said. "It's not about a number or a streak. I want my guys to be there for me, and therefore I want to be there for them every single week."

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