Colts Prepare for Game in Tennessee on Short Week
INDIANAPOLIS – The defining moments remain ahead.
Peyton Manning, in his 13th season as the Colts' quarterback, said that's a key point to remember as the Colts work a short week amid a national spotlight while preparing to play a nationally-televised, prime-time game against a division rival Thursday.
Yes, the Colts are 6-6.
Yes, they're in second place in the AFC South.
And no, Manning said, four losses in five games – and three consecutive games without a victory – isn't an ideal way to enter the season's final quarter.
But Manning, the NFL's Most Valuable Player the past two seasons, said while the circumstances may be difficult, they're no cause for panic.
"We lost three games, guys," Manning said Tuesday as the Colts (6-6) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (5-7) in an AFC South game at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday at 8:20 p.m.
"It's a tough stretch. It's a three-game losing streak. I know you guys aren't used to having to ask these questions, but it's football. That's the way it is. It's how you respond to it."
The Colts, who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, enter the fourth quarter of the season one game behind first-place Jacksonville (7-5). The Jaguars beat Tennessee, 17-6, Sunday.
The Colts and Jaguars play in Indianapolis December 19, and each team controls its post-season destiny.
If the Colts win all of their remaining games, they will win the South. Under that scenario, if Jacksonville wins all of its games except its game against the Colts, the teams would finish tied at 10-6.
Indianapolis would win the division based on a better record against common opponents.
"The good thing is we're in Week 12 and we still have a chance to get in," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "I wouldn't have thought 6-6 would have any chance to get in. We do. We have four games and we have to win all four, so you know what your goal is."
The Colts' primary goal this week:
The Colts rank No. 5 in the NFL in total offense, No. 1 in passing offense and No. 4 in points scored, but while they have scored 28, 16 and 35 points in the last three games, they have 12 turnovers and no takeaways during the span. They lost the three games at New England, at home to San Diego and at home to Dallas.
"As a whole, we're just struggling," Saturday said. "Each group has taken their turn each game. We're just very inconsistent. You can't run an offense that way.
"The one thing we've been the past three years and we've not been this year is consistent. You knew what you were going to get each time you went on the field. That has not been us this season.
"Whether it be the offensive line not doing it, the receivers not doing it, the quarterback not doing it, the tight end – we're all taking turns not getting it done. At inopune times, things just mount on us."
Said Manning, "I think it's about execution – running the plays better, in all phases of our offense. That's something we have to do. I think the plays we're running, we just have to execute them better. That's the simple answer. That's what it comes down to."
The Colts and Titans will play on three days rest, something Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said can work to a team's advantage following a loss.
Gary Brackett, the Colts' defensive captain and starting middle linebacker, said while playing on a short week is difficult on the body, it's an equal environment for each team.
"Everyone's sore," Brackett said. "It's just three days and you're playing, so you can't use that as an excuse. It is what it is. From the standpoint of getting over a loss, you definitely can get that accomplished. You go out there Thursday night and get a win, you didn't have to wait for the weekend to get back to winning.
"From that aspect, I guess it does help a little bit."
Manning said however much time is available between games, "We need to use that time effectively to prepare."
"The short week hopefully is good medicine for us," Manning said. "We're just continuing to work hard. We're certainly disappointed, but all we can do is focus on the next opponent, work hard, prepare hard, and try to take that to the playing field. I've tried to that as a quarterback – try to do my job better.
"It's something I certainly need to do. I think everybody feels the sense of urgency, feels the challenge. Hopefully, we can respond."
The Colts, who have made the post-season an NFL-high eight consecutive seasons, have clinched playoff berths before the regular-season finale every season since 2002. In 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and last season, Indianapolis clinched the AFC South entering the final game.
Still, Manning said while this season is a decidedly different scenario, it's not as if the Colts haven't faced key late-season games before.
"We still had to win two or sometimes three games in December just to seal the division," Manning said. "It's not a whole lot different from that. What's happened in our first 12 games is really irrelevant. We do have four games left, and it's about how we handle those first four games.
"This is the first one – a four-game season, four one-game seasons – whatever you want to call it, it is important to try to get on a winning streak and try to win all these games.
"In order to do that, you have to win the first one."