Simple Indy slogan is win and we’re in
Posted: Friday, December 31, 2010 5:50 pm
By: By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning treated the last three weeks like he was already making a playoff run.
Win and advance, lose and go home.
All the Colts have to do now is survive one more week and they’re in.
“I think it’s very much the same approach,” the four-time league MVP said when asked about the stakes this weekend.
For the Colts, it really is that simple.
Three straight wins have put the defending AFC champs in postseason position, and another victory Sunday, against division rival Tennessee, will clinch Indy’s seventh AFC South title in eight seasons.
But this has been no typical run for Manning & Co.
Indy (9-6) has been besieged by injuries. Seventeen players are on injured reserve, a list that includes everyone from 2009 All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark to 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders.
It had to overcome an 0-2 start in the division, two straight home losses, the first three-game losing streak since 2002 and the worst three-game slump of Manning’s career.
By December, the Colts had to stomp on the accelerator instead of resting players and fine-tuning things for January.
And now, four weeks after it looked like the Colts might miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001, they need to beat Tennessee or have injury-depleted Jacksonville lose at Houston to qualify.
The Colts have no intention of leaving their fate up to anyone else.
“Let’s win it, that’s kind of been our motto lately,” longtime center Jeff Saturday said. “At this point, everything is on us, which is what you want. If we win, we’re in.”
The Titans (6-9), of course, would like nothing better than to derail their biggest division rival. Hey, it’s better than recounting their season.
Seven losses in eight games ruined a 5-2 start, quarterback Vince Young and coach Jeff Fisher have been in a public spat, and now there are questions whether 38-year-old quarterback Kerry Collins, the 27-year-old Young or Fisher, the NFL’s longest-tenured active coach, will be back next season.
Fisher contends he’s paid no attention to the talk, and his players aren’t fixated on it either.
“Everybody hears what’s going on and sees what’s going on,” Pro Bowl kick returner Marc Mariani said. “We’re all professionals. You have to be in this business. You have to have a thick skin. It’s one of those things. We control ourselves as far as how we perform and how we conduct ourselves. … All the front office things there’s nothing we can do.”
But Fisher isn’t ready to close the book on this season or his Titans career just yet.
While he’s indicated some young players could see more action Sunday, he has not ruled out different rotations or pulling out trick plays like he did to try and stop Manning during his record-setting 2004 season.
“Probably a pretty good chance,” said Fisher, whose 273rd game with the Titans will surpass Joe Gibbs for seventh all-time in games coached with one team. “Defensively, obviously, you have to be smart taking into consideration who you’re playing against. But offensively there might be an opportunity to do some things.”
Fisher also needs one win to tie Tony Dungy for 19th all-time.
He’s not the only one chasing milestones.
Chris Johnson, the 2009 rushing champ, probably won’t defend that title. With 167 yards Sunday, though, Johnson would finish with the highest rushing total following a 2,000-yard season. Barry Sanders holds the current mark of 1,491.
Collins needs 99 yards passing to move into 11th place on the career list. The man in front of him, John Unitas, was a Hall of Famer for the Colts, and Collins could do it in front of the man who originally drafted him with Carolina, Colts President Bill Polian.
Fisher, the coach who once pulled on a blue-and-white No. 18 jersey just so he could “feel like a winner,” will also have a front row seat to what may be one of Manning’s most historic days.
When he takes the first snap Sunday, Manning will break Gene Upshaw’s record for most consecutive starts to open a career (208). Three TD passes would make Manning the third member of the 400-TD club, joining Brett Favre and Dan Marino. If Manning throws for more than 300 yards, he would also break Marino’s career record of 63 300-yard games.
And if Reggie Wayne catches one of those TD passes, he will break a tie with Hall of Famer Raymond Berry for second in franchise history (68). Only Marvin Harrison has more.
But the biggest record is the one that matters most to the Colts: a ninth consecutive playoff appearance. Only one other team in league history, Dallas from 1975-83, achieved that feat.
All the Colts need is one more victory.
“We’re still in the same position. Nothing has changed,” coach Jim Caldwell said when asked if he considered this a make-it, take-it kind of game. “We still have to win.”