Manning Says Focus Won't Change in Regular-Season Finale
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning very much wants to play Sunday. A lot.
And while the wishes of the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback are no surprise to Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, that doesn't necessarily mean Manning will play extensively.
Still, Manning said on Wednesday a few things are certain:
No matter its impact on the playoff picture, Sunday's game has meaning.
The Colts need to play well.
And mostly, they need a victory.
"We want to win this game," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (11-4) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (13-2) in the regular-season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We'd like to continue our winning streak, and go into the first week of the playoffs coming off a win. We'd like to keep the momentum going. We're going to do whatever it takes to keep that going."
The Colts, after a 3-4 start, have won eight consecutive games – their longest winning streak since a 9-0 start in 2006 – and last week they clinched their seventh consecutive playoff appearance with a 31-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The victory also clinched for the Colts the AFC's No. 5 seed, and because the Titans have clinched the AFC South, Indianapolis can move no higher in the seedings. Under the NFL's postseason format, a conference's four division winners are seeded Nos. 1-4 according to record with two Wild Card teams seeded Nos. 5-6.
The Colts, who won the AFC South each of the past five seasons, are therefore assured of opening the playoffs on the road for the first time since 2002. They will play either San Diego (7-8) or Denver (8-7) in an AFC Wild Card playoff game on January 3-4.
Because they are assured of their seeding, the Colts face a similar situation to that which they faced in the 2004, 2005 and 2007 regular-season finales – i.e., a game without playoff implications.
Dungy said this week the Colts will approach Sunday's game as they did in recent finales, playing to win while resting players who need rest.
But Dungy also said for NFL players, every game is precious – even ones without playoff implications.
"Everybody would like to play," Dungy said. "There's no doubt about that. They get 16 opunities a year, and especially when you get in Peyton's situation where you don't have 12 or 15 years left, you do start counting the games. A lot of our veterans feel that way.
"A number of guys have come to me, wanting to play the whole way and wanting to play more. We'll have to gauge it and judge it. We do only have 45 guys who can play, so guys will get to play their share."
Manning said he wants to play as much as possible, and that he will approach practice this week as usual.
"I want to play the whole game," said Manning, who on Wednesday was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week for his three-touchdown, 364-yard performance against the Jaguars. "We're practicing normal this week, taking all the reps.
"We'll just see what happens as the game goes on."
The Colts enter the weekend as one of just three AFC teams to have clinched a playoff spot. The Titans have secured the No. 1 seed and their first South title since 2002, and the Pittsburgh Steelers enter as the No. 2 seed. The New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are still in contention for the AFC East title, and the Baltimore Ravens are currently holding the No. 6 seed, but have yet to clinch.
"That's the thing," Manning said. "It's been a nice thing we've done (winning eight consecutive games), but it's also been a necessity. We really had to, considering the rest of the AFC. You just knew here at the end San Diego would come around and be back in the mix. You knew New England would. Of course, Pittsburgh and Tennessee have been great all year long and you knew Baltimore would.
"It has a chance to be a pretty star-studded AFC, the six playoff teams. The six teams you probably thought would have gone at the end have a chance to end up going. We started off slowly and found ourselves at 3-4.
"It was just a matter of getting back playing better football. It wasn't a players' only meeting. It wasn't some great speech anybody gave. It was just a matter of doing some of the things we were used to doing in years past and that started helping us win more ballgames."
Manning said although the Colts don't need the victory for playoff seeding, the urgency of the past two months shouldn't disappear Sunday.
"It's really the same approach," Manning said. "We want to win the game. We want to get better. That's really what we've talked about all season long, but we've really done a better job and practiced what we've preached the last eight weeks.
"We have gotten better during the week and we felt like we've gotten better somewhere out there on Sunday. Whether it's third-down conversion or red-zone, we feel like we've improved in some phase somewhere out there on the field. That's the same plan and approach this week – to get better during the week of practice, and to go out and play well and try to get a win.
"That's really all we're talking about."