Colts Share Lead with Jacksonville in AFC South at 6-4
INDIANAPOLIS – As Jim Caldwell sees it, the task is clear.
Caldwell, in his second season as the Colts' head coach, said what is particularly clear is the task facing the Colts the rest of the season isn't about looking at things that way at all.
Yes, the Colts are tied for first in the AFC South.
And yes, the final six weeks will decide playoff positioning, division winners, etc., but Caldwell said what the Colts will focus on is what's imant and what they can control:
The next game, the next opponent.
"The big thing we try to do is that we don't necessarily look at the six weeks in totality," Caldwell said Monday, a day after the Colts' late rally fell just short in a 31-28 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
"Obviously, we know how many games we have left, but we try to focus in on the next opponent because you can't do anything about what's going to happen beyond that, and also, you don't know unless you're a soothsayer or a prognosticator, which we don't have any in our locker room or on our staff.
"We have to play those one at a time."
The Colts (6-4), who will play host to the San Diego Chargers (4-5) Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, enter the 11th game of the season tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for first place in the AFC South. The Jaguars, winners of their last three games, beat the Colts, 31-28, on a last-play field goal in Jacksonville in Week 3, and moved into a first-place tie with the Colts with a 24-20 victory over Cleveland Sunday.
The Jaguars and Colts are a game ahead of Tennessee (5-5), which has lost three consecutive games, including a 19-16 overtime loss to Washington Sunday. The Houston Texans (4-6) have lost four consecutive games, falling two games behind in the division. They lost to the New York Jets Sunday, 30-27.
The Colts on Sunday trailed the Patriots, 31-14, in the fourth quarter, before Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw touchdown passes of 5 and 18 yards to wide receiver Blair White.
That made it 31-28, and the Colts re-gained possession with a chance to tie or take the lead, but New England safety James Sanders intercepted Manning inside the 10-yard line in the final minute.
"It is one of those things," Caldwell said of the game's final play. "Oftentimes what happens to you, everybody wants to blame somebody, but sometimes there are about three or four things that occur during the course of a play. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to get our execution sharp from start to finish, in terms of the start of the game, ending of the game, how well we execute, etcetera.
"That all falls on me and for the most part, that is the situation. I just have to get everybody on the same page doing things the right way, and I think we'll be better for it."
The Colts, as has been the case throughout much of the last month, played New England with a slew of injuries. They placed tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and safety Melvin Bullitt on injured reserve earlier this season, and the following players missed Sunday's game:
Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, cornerback Justin Tryon and safety Bob Sanders.
Wide receiver Austin Collie, after missing the previous week's game with a concussion, left the New England game in the first half and did not return.
"I think they were just kind of being conservative and watching his symptoms and things of that nature," Caldwell said of Collie. "I'm not certain, exactly. I'll get a full report today and get a little bit better sense of things."
Caldwell said while backups and reserves have played a key role, those players have improved with experience. White, a rookie free agent wide receiver, helped the Colts rally in the fourth quarter Sunday, and running back Javarris James has three touchdowns in the last three games.
"The big thing is that some of the young guys that we have playing for us are obviously almost like veterans because of the fact that they have gotten a lot of play and some of them are starting to play better and better each and every week," Caldwell said. "I think the other thing we have to be encouraged about is the fact that we have shown that we can do it, that we can play well in spurts, and we have to be able to do that consistently. That includes our offense, defense and our kicking game.
"One of the big things that we can control is we can certainly control our turnovers, we can certainly control penalties. Our penalties in our kicking game certainly set us back and kept us backed up in our territory there in that first half as well. So those are things we can control, but there are some encouraging things in there as well."
The Chargers, the four-time defending AFC West Champions, started the season 2-5, but began working their way back into the playoff chase with victories over Tennessee and Houston. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has completed 215 of 329 passes for 2,944 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions through nine games, and tight end Antonio Gates had caught 40 passes for 663 yards and nine touchdowns.
"What we really have to do is get focused in on another talented team that we have to face this coming week," Caldwell said. "San Diego's talented, outstanding quarterback, good offensive personnel, they move the ball well and they also have a good, solid defense, as well. We have to get focused in on them."
And while Caldwell said the focus on the immediate opponent, being tied for first place with a game remaining against Jacksonville means, "Our number one goal is still out there in front of us."
"We literally control our own destiny," Caldwell said. "It still depends on what we do and how we do it that makes a difference down the stretch. We're not looking for anybody else's help at this point in time.
"If we just continue to improve here in this next game and take them one at a time, we've still got an opportunity. There is that old saying, I think it's a quote, 'Man can live 40 days without food, four days without water, eight minutes without air, but one second without hope.'
"We still have hope. We still have an opportunity. I think our guys will take that challenge on."