Crowned Colts finish Titans
Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 4:47 pm
By: By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts still had work to do, even with a playoff berth all but wrapped up.
Indianapolis would clinch the AFC South title on Sunday with a win over Tennessee or a loss by Jacksonville at Houston. The games were played simultaneously, and as Houston stretched its lead over the Jaguars to 17 points in the fourth quarter and the score flashed on the big screens at Lucas Oil Stadium, some Colts players looked, some didn’t.
They all remained focused.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to give the Colts a 23-20 win that they technically didn’t need, but they felt it was important not to back into the playoffs.
The Colts will take a four-game winning streak into Saturday night’s home game against the New York Jets, and quarterback Peyton Manning said momentum matters.
“You certainly hope to build off of that a little bit,” he said. “There is no question this is a game we wanted to win.”
Houston eventually defeated Jacksonville 34-17, and Colts receiver Reggie Wayne acknowledged watching the scoreboard.
“A few times, I kind of glanced over there and took a peek at it,” he said. “We just knew if we took care of business here, the rest didn’t matter.”
Manning said the team’s ability to remain steady, regardless of the circumstances, has been impressive. The Colts tied Dallas’ NFL record of nine consecutive playoff appearances, set from 1975-83, and won the division crown for the seventh time in eight seasons.
“Consistency is doing your job every single week, every single year,” he said. “I guess that’s what you try to be, a consistent player, a consistent team. I think for the most part, we have done that.”
The Colts won’t give themselves time to put the win in perspective.
“We will reflect on this one at the end of the year, whenever that happens,” defensive end Dwight Freeney said, “but our job is far from being done, and we are not happy with where we are yet.”
The Colts at one point were 6-6 and on the brink of elimination from the playoff race. Indy started its win streak by beating Tennessee 30-28 in Nashville. The next week, Jacksonville had a chance to clinch the division title in Indianapolis, but the Colts handled them 34-24. Indy won 31-26 at Oakland before closing the regular season with another win over the Titans.
All this with a team that has placed 17 players on injured reserve.
The offense lost several stars, including tight end Dallas Clark and receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez to season-ending injuries. Manning set the NFL record for completions in a season with 450, and he set a career high by passing for 4,700 yards, 10th-best in NFL history. Wayne caught a career-best 111 passes for 1,355 yards. Jacob Tamme caught 67 passes in Clark’s place and undrafted rookie Blair White caught 36 while filling in for Collie and Gonzalez.
“You hope you win games, but we certainly lost a lot of those games while we got that experience, but when it counted and we had to win, we won four in a row,” Manning said. “I thought those guys showed progress, and it is a credit to those guys for continuing to stay with it.”
Now, instead of wondering if the Colts will make the playoffs, the question is who can stop them. Indy has averaged 29.5 points during its winning streak.
“I think we came together as a team,” running back Joseph Addai said. “That was the big thing. We were able to step up and just keep on trying to win games. We were able to do that and control whatever we could control.”
The Colts had one blowout loss, a 36-14 defeat at home against San Diego, and lost their season opener 34-24 at Houston. But their other losses, to Jacksonville, Philadelphia, New England and Dallas, came by a combined 11 points.
“Never count us out,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “I think when we were 6-6, people were saying the Colts are done. We have always said it all year that we define ourselves, and we proved that today.”
Now, the Colts are talking about making another run to the Super Bowl after losing to New Orleans in the title game last year. Indianapolis won it all after the 2006 season.
“Check us out, that’s all I can say,” Wayne said. “We’ve always had the naysayers. All we can do is go out and play Colts football and do the things we are supposed to do. It was tough on us early in the year, but we found a way to prevail and move forward, and now we’re going to the playoffs.”