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Colts need a win to keep title hopes alive

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts own five straight division titles and have held at least a share of the AFC South lead in 95 of the past 109 weeks.

Now, they're suddenly in trouble.

The up-and-down Colts find themselves at an uncharacteristic 3-3, three games behind division-leading Tennessee as they prepare for what could be a season-defining moment this weekend at Tennessee.

Clearly, the Colts understand the stakes. A loss puts them four games back in the loss column and down an early chip for a tiebreaker. A victory gives Indy hope, keeping them within two games of the division lead and still getting the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"I think our players will watch the tape and they will see how well Tennessee is playing," coach Tony Dungy said Monday. "I think we'll know that if we don't win this game, we really won't have a chance to win the division I don't think."

Dungy rarely makes such proclamations this early in the season.

But don't mistake his concern for panic.

During Sunday's 34-14 blowout at Green Bay, the Colts did a better job running the ball, stopping the run and limiting the Packers' big plays. They were done in by 12 penalties and two interceptions that Green Bay returned for touchdowns.

If they don't get those corrected soon, this season could quickly devolve into a downward spiral. Over the next five weeks, Indy faces the unbeaten Titans, perennial power New England, AFC North leading Pittsburgh, Houston and the San Diego Chargers, who beat Indy twice last season.

To get themselves back in the division race, and remain a wild-card contender, the Colts need to start stringing together victories.

"Our first goal is to make it to the playoffs, and if you win your division you go to the playoffs," middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. "Obviously, Tennessee is hot, and if we want to win our division, we've got to win this game."

EXPERIENCED HAND: While Dungy is concerned the Colts haven't played with their usual proficiency or consistency, he's trying to keep things in perspective.

After all, he has been through this kind of start before.

"It probably would have been 1999, 2000 and 2001 in there, with Tampa," Dungy said. "We had some slow starts, and we were always trying to figure out how we could play consistently. It was the same situation. What it comes down to is working your way through it, and not panicking and getting that sense of urgency without panicking."

Dungy remembers it well.

The Buccaneers opened all three of those seasons at 3-4. In 1999, Tampa Bay won eight of nine and the division title before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis in the NFC Championship game. The Bucs also qualified for the playoffs in 2000 and 2001 but lost twice to Philadelphia in the first round.

Can the Colts produce similar results?

Dungy thinks they can.

"Right now, we're 3-3," he said. "We're a team that wins one, loses one, plays well part of the time, not well part of the time and we're just not a consistent football team right now. We have the makings of a good football team. We have individual components to be very good, but right now, we're not clicking on all cylinders."

SECOND THOUGHTS: When the Colts decided to punt on fourth-and-1 in the first half Sunday, Peyton Manning waved his arms, hoping Dungy would go for it.

Many Colts fans spent Monday wondering if Dungy made a mistake.

Dungy acknowledged that if he had to do it over again, he may have made a different decision given the circumstances.

"When you go for it in your own territory early in the game, you either have a play that you really feel like is going to work and are very confident you are going to make it or you have a sense of desperation," he said. "Had I known that we'd kick the ball down at their 10 and they would keep the ball eight minutes and score a touchdown, we probably would have gone for it.

"But I didn't expect that to happen. I had confidence we could get them stopped and get the ball back. It all works together. In hindsight, the way the game went, I would have liked to have gone for it, but I don't second guess."

QUICK HITS: Manning's 229-yard performance Sunday moved him past Dan Fouts and into eighth on the NFL's career yards passing list. Fouts finished his career with 43,040 yards. Manning now has 43,157. Drew Bledsoe is seventh all-time at 44,611. ... In six games, the Colts have now allowed five runners to top 100 yards in a game, including Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to each do it Sept. 21. ... Indianapolis is tied with New Orleans at No. 24 in penalties with 46. But of the eight teams behind them, only two -- Oakland (49) and Cleveland (51) -- have played six games. The other teams have all played seven games.

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