INDIANAPOLIS – Through 13 games, only seven Indianapolis players have been able to start each game, while only 22 have appeared in every contest.
Players who have started each game include linebacker Pat Angerer, defensive end Dwight Freeney and free safety Antoine Bethea on defense, while wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, center Jeff Saturday and offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach have answered the starting bell on offense. (Defensive end Robert Mathis is one of 22 Colts players who have been in every game, but he missed an opening play in one game.)
Every unit on the team has been affected, perhaps none worse than the secondary. Bethea has been the lone constant in a backfield which has seen six different starting combinations in 2011.
Bethea, playing near his home state of Virginia and his alma mater, Howard University, was the leading tackler for Indianapolis Sunday at Baltimore, a game the Colts dropped, 24-10.
The sixth-year pro had 11 stops against the Ravens to push his tackle total to 113, a total that ranks behind only Angerer's 119.
This marks the fourth straight season Bethea has topped 100 tackles, and it is the fifth time in his career. His season-highs are 126 in 2008 and 120 in 2009. Angerer has the utmost respect for the hard-hitting Bethea.
"Antoine Bethea is a great player, a great veteran," said Angerer. "He's definitely someone everyone on this team look up to and seeks for answers. He's guy who is fun to play with. He's always got a smile on his face. He's always playing hard, and he always comes with a full effort. You see it every game. You can't say enough good things about that man."
Bethea came into the season with Melvin Bullitt established as the starter at strong safety. Bullitt was injured after two games and David Caldwell and Joe Lefeged have opened games there in his absence. Cornerback Jerraud Powers was placed on injured reserve this past week after injuring his elbow at New England. On Sunday, rookie Chris Rucker opened in Powers' absence on the right side. Indianapolis has had three starters this season at the left corner – Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson and Kevin Thomas. Lacey has started seven times at the spot, including Sunday at Baltimore.
Caldwell and Lefeged have managed to appear in all 13 games along with Bethea. They are the lone three in the secondary to accomplish the feat. Those two are joined by Rucker, Thomas and Johnson as players in the secondary who have made career-opening appearances with Indianapolis this season.
Counting Sunday against Baltimore, Bethea has had four games this year with double-digit tackle totals. He had 12 stops against Kansas City on October 9, along with totaling 11 tackles at New Orleans and against Atlanta.
Angerer opened his 13th game on Sunday. He missed most the game last Sunday at New England with a knee injury, but he was able to start against the Ravens. Angerer had eight stops to push his seasonal total to 119. He stands among the league's leading tacklers.
Angerer, like Bethea, is a quiet leader. He has fight left in him, and he knows the team will stay together in playing the next three games.
"There's definitely no give up in this team," said Angerer. "We're in this together. Everybody on the outside is going to try bring us apart, but we're going to stick in it together, stay tight. We're all going to keep getting us better.
"There is no quit. We're not going to give up. We're going to fight this thing. We're going to get through this. I think we're all ready to get the opportunity to get this bad taste out of our mouth next week."
The lone other 13-game defensive starter is Freeney, who achieved a career milestone against the Ravens by passing by the 100-sack total. Freeney has 101.5 sacks after getting to Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco twice. Flacco became the 49th different quarterback Freeney has reached. It was the 25th career multiple sack game of Freeney's career, and he has sacks against 26 of 31 teams.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell noted the significance of Freeney's achievement.
"Dwight is a guy who works extremely hard," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell to Colts Radio after the game. "He's been blessed with speed and power and tenacity. He's a tough guy to handle. Obviously, it's evident by the number of sacks he's had. It's very select company that he's entered into. It's certainly well-deserved because he works at it. It's important to him, and he has a lot more to come."
The last three games for Indianapolis come against AFC South foes, Tennessee and Houston at home, Jacksonville on the road. Indianapolis places a great deal of emphasis on division games, and Bethea is ready to attack with his typical maximum effort.
"We play those teams twice a year," said Bethea of the special nature of division games. "You get to know the players on the other teams. Each game really is like a rivalry. You want to win those games and sort of get the bragging rights going into the next year. Regardless of the records, you want to win those games. Every team in the division has a healthy respect for the other (AFC South) teams. We go in every game knowing it will be a hard-fought battle. Our last three games are division games, we want to end on a good note."