The first chapter of the Indianapolis Colts postseason championship defense will be written on Sunday.
Entering this weekend’s divisional playoffs, the picture in the AFC is comprised of arguably the four best teams in the conference. The second-seeded Colts return to action to face a familiar foe, the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers, who narrowly defeated a then injury-depleted Colts squad in inarguably the team’s sloppiest game of the year.
Though it is highly unlikely Peyton Manning will throw another six interceptions, as was the case in the team’s 21-23 week 10 loss, the defending champs are taking nothing for granted as their postseason gets under way.
“I don’t think we’ll play a game like we played out there, but I think San Diego is playing better,” said Colts head coach Tony Dungy. “They were in the process of finding themselves too early in the year and I think they’re pretty grooved now.”
A result of their bye week benefit, the Colts find themselves the healthiest they have been all season at the right time. Heading into this week’s practice schedule, only tight end Ben Utecht was questionable to participate among the team’s active roster, a far cry from their previous Chargers contest in which eight players were unable to go.
This weekend, the Chargers may actually be more concerned about critical injuries, with the status of Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates likely coming down to a game time decision.
Having spent the entire regular season adjusting to key losses, Dungy knows first hand one loss does not predetermine the outcome, superstar or not. In fact, with Hall of Fame-bound receiver Marvin Harrison’s participation still not a certainty, the Colts are preparing with a level of confidence that remains high.
“I’m at the point you can’t base it on one guy, if Gates doesn’t play, they’re not going to come in and forfeit,” Dungy said. “They won and got the job done in the second half without him being a big part of it and I think that’s what good teams do.
“If Marvin plays, I think we’re going to be very, very explosive,” he added. “If he doesn’t play, I think we’re going to find a way to win anyway.”
Among those guaranteed to help determine Sunday’s outcome, All Pro safety Bob Sanders’ impact could be what catapults the defending champs back to the AFC Championship. The Associated Press 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been a difference maker within the Colts’ third ranked defense, pummeling opposing offenses with reckless abandon.
Only the fourth safety in league history to be awarded defensive POY honors, Sanders is the first ever Colt to achieve the recognition, which is particularly significant for a team long recognized for their offensive prowess. Due in large part to a healthy Sanders on the field in 15 games this regular season, the Colts defense has not skipped a beat since last postseason despite crucial losses within their unit.
Though the fourth year veteran prepares individually each year to be the most valuable defensive player, Sanders attributes the honor to the team’s total effort.
“I think this year, just overall as a defense and myself, we all have done well at executing and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Sanders said. “That definitely shows the type of team we have and that we’re growing as a unit.”
Whether the first chapter of the Colts postseason is the last chapter of RCA Dome memories is as yet uncertain. As for the Colts themselves, there is a clear focus and resolve not to make the first chapter their last.