The names and faces have changed in Indianapolis.
The early season results have not.
For the fifth time in seven years, the Colts are perfect through the season’s first month despite having a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator, an early rash of injuries and minus the franchise’s career receiving leader.
“I think overall the thing that we’re pleased with is that we’ve been improving every week to the point where we’ve been a little more consistent performing team,” new coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think any time you can win a couple of close ones and then have one that goes your way, you feel pretty good about where you are.”
For the Colts (3-0), fast starts are the norm.
They were the first team in league history to open three straight seasons (2005-07) with seven consecutive wins before stumbling out of the gate last season when Peyton Manning was not 100 percent. Indy won its final nine regular-season games, though, and the three wins to start this year have given the Colts a 12-game winning streak.
Indy also holds a two-game lead in the AFC South over Houston and Jacksonville and a three-game lead over defending division champ Tennessee.
Caldwell, who served as an assistant on Tony Dungy’s staff from 2001 until this season, understands the Colts must now capitalize on their advantage.
There are signs of progress.
Indy’s beleaguered ground game is improving and its leaky defense has demonstrated, at times, it might hold up better over the long run with its aggressive play despite having starters — Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Gary Brackett and Kelvin Hayden — hurt.
Meanwhile, Manning is taking advantage of defenses trying to double-team three-time Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne by going to tight end Dallas Clark and receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie more frequently.
But Caldwell understands the Colts still have work to do.
“It does not give you any indication of what’s going to happen in the future, it doesn’t give you any indication of what’s going to happen this week,” he said. “All the 3-0 start has done is assure us that we won’t go 2-14.”
GRIND IT OUT: After finishing 31st in the NFL in rushing last season, Caldwell and the Colts put a renewed emphasis on having balance in the offense.
After averaging 5.5 yards per carry against Miami in Week 2, Indy ran for a respectable 4.1 yards per carry in Sunday night’s win over Arizona.
The game marked just the third time in nine regular-season games Indy has topped 100 yards rushing, and running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown also made key plays in the passing game.
Caldwell was encouraged by the results.
“I could see it coming and you could see it in practice,” he said. “Joseph and Donald both had some very nice runs (Sunday). The offensive line did a very nice job opening up holes and giving them a crease to get them into. We’ve just got to continue to keep working at it and get better.”
REWARDING AWARD: Brackett, the Colts defensive captain, was honored with the Chairman’s Citation Award from the Indiana chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for his work in the group’s fundraising project.
As part of the organization’s Pennies for Patients program, a school-based fundraiser to support blood cancer research, Brackett offered to make a personal appearance at the school that raised the most money. Organizers said that led to an additional $125,000 being raised.
For Brackett, the award also has personal meaning. His older brother, Greg, died from leukemia in 2005, and Brackett donated bone marrow to help his brother battle the illness.
“I always told myself if I had a chance to give back to this area, I would,” Brackett said. “That’s one thing that’s great about this team. We have several guys that give back to their community and really believe in what they do. That comes from the top, Jim Irsay, Bill Polian and now Jim Caldwell.”
QUICK KICKS: Manning needs three touchdown passes to move past Fran Tarkenton for third on the NFL’s career list. … Though Caldwell is in his first season as an NFL head coach, Sunday will mark the second time he’s led the Colts onto the field against Seattle. Caldwell filled in for Tony Dungy at Seattle in December 2005, days after Dungy’s son, James, committed suicide. … Freeney’s four sacks this season rank third in the NFL and in the AFC. … For the second straight week, Indy has the NFL’s top receiver in terms of yardage. Last week, it was Clark; this week it’s Wayne with 325 yards. Clark is now fourth with 284 yards. … The Colts run defense, which was among the league’s worst last season, is now No. 21.
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