Colts stick to plan despite lobbying
By: By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tony Dungy expects the lobbying from Cleveland and Nashville to start in earnest later this week.
While the phone didn’t ring much Monday morning, the Indianapolis Colts coach anticipates a barrage of calls the next few days from the 216, 440 and 615 area codes, which encompass the two cities vying for the AFC’s final playoff spot.
“I’m looking for those area codes to show up on my phone,” Dungy joked. “Not necessarily from the coaches, but from the fans in those cities.”
Nobody would blame them for trying.
In an odd twist, the defending Super Bowl champions that have been overshadowed all season by New England now find themselves squarely in the spotlight going into their regular-season finale against Tennessee.
The scenario is about as simple as it gets with the playoffs.
A Titans win would give them their first postseason berth since 2003. A Tennessee loss sends the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Cleveland doesn’t even have to win to make it.
So all AFC eyes are focused on Indianapolis to see if Dungy plays his starters in the NFL’s final regular season game, just as they were for the league’s season-opener in September.
And the usually cautious Dungy won’t tip his hand much.
He’s scheduling backup quarterback Jim Sorgi to play at least one half, perhaps longer if perennial Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison returns to the lineup after missing nine games.
If Harrison doesn’t play, Manning could leave even earlier, drawing cheers from the Titans’ Nashville faithful.
In the 2004 and ’05 regular-season finales, when the Colts faced similar situations, Manning was a combined 2-of-4 for 11 yards and played just one series. It could happen again Sunday night, although Dungy sounds like he’ll give Manning a few more snaps.
“That’s the way the schedule works out and you feel bad about it sometimes,” he said. “One of the only times I missed the playoffs, in ’98, I remember finding out we were eliminated on the plane ride back home. That was my message then and now is that you don’t put yourself in that position. You play for your team, you coach for your team and you can’t worry about anyone else.”
Even if it is personal.
Dungy has been around the league long enough, a quarter-century, to have friends in every NFL city and some of those friends are on the coaching staffs in Cleveland and Tennessee.
As much as Dungy may want to send a gift someone’s way, he refuses to let friendships get in his way of doing what’s best for the Colts.
Right tackle Ryan Diem will likely take his fourth straight week off after Dungy announced Monday that the lineman had recently undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Tight end Ben Utecht, who reinjured his left shoulder Sunday against Houston, will likely sit out.
Decisions on receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who has been filling in for Harrison, and defensive tackle Raheem Brock will be made later this week.
There’s a good chance, however, starting safety Antoine Bethea and defensive end Robert Mathis will return after sitting out Sunday.
“They’ll play in the playoffs for sure,” Dungy said. “Antoine and Robert have a good chance to play this week, so we’ll see. Robert we’ll probably be a little more cautious with.”
The updates will undoubtedly produce opposite reactions in Cleveland and Tennessee.
But Dungy won’t let that color his game plan for Saturday. He simply can’t let it affect his decisions.
“We’ve got the same type of situation this week, where the game really doesn’t mean much, and we got some rest for some of our regulars at the end of the game,” he said. “That’s probably what we’ll do this week only a little earlier. We do plan to play everybody, we’re just not sure how long yet.”