After five straight seasons of AFC South dominance, the Indianapolis Colts are going to need to use the backdoor into the playoffs if they want to get in at all.
Last night’s torch-passing in Nashville — a 31-21 drubbing in which the Tennessee Titans used a vicious finishing kick — seemed to suck the air out of Indy. For the longest time, the only sound in the visitors locker room at LP Field was that of tape being ripped off and luggage being zipped up. The muted irritation and frustration aren’t common to a Colts locker room this early in the year.
Indy’s excellence — especially out of the chutes — has been legend. The Colts have started 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0 the past three years. Now they are 3-4 and stuck in an unfamiliar morass of mediocrity. Say goodbye to resting the stars from Week 11 on, Indy. Say hello to the eye-gouge fest that is the Wild Card race.
Asked after the loss to spin it forward and figure out what it means to the Colts, head coach Tony Dungy basically conceded the South to Tennessee, which moved to 7-0 — four games ahead of Indy with nine to play.
“It’s going to make it doubtful for us to win the division but it doesn’t mean that much … we’ll see what the last nine games bring,” said Dungy. “If we play well and get ourselves on a streak we can be a playoff team. And once you get in the playoffs anything can happen as we’ve seen two of the last three years.”
These Colts aren’t accustomed to “if-ing” about the postseason. Nor are they used to “must-wins” two days after Halloween. But that’s what Indy’s looking at Sunday night when they play the Patriots in Indianapolis.
New England’s 5-2 and — playing without their leader Tom Brady — the Pats would relish the chance to drop the Colts to 3-5 and force them to go no worse than 6-2 in the second half of the season if they want to stick around into January.
“We’ve got to get over it fast,” said Dungy.
Peyton Manning, who went 26 for 41 for 223 yards (50 yards during garbage time) with two touchdowns and two picks, echoed that.
“It’s a short week,” he pointed out. “We have no choice (but to bounce back).”
Manning, who seemed particularly low during his postgame remarks, was asked how the Colts can combat the hangover that could come after a loss like Monday’s.
The way the Colts lost could leave a mark. With 11 minutes left in the third, the Colts led 14-6.
The Cliff’s Notes for the final 24 minutes?
“We’re fourth down and two feet and we didn’t make it,” said Dungy when asked about rolling the dice twice. “The other one, we had about 3 yards to go, it was too far to kick a field goal and we had confidence in our offense, but their defense stepped up.”
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