The Indianapolis Colts made NFL history their last time out, but they have a bigger goal on their minds.
Indianapolis squeaked past Buffalo 17-16 on Sunday to become the first team to go 9-0 in consecutive seasons. The Colts won their first 13 games last season before falling to San Diego on Dec. 18.
Indianapolis was then eliminated from the playoffs by Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. After a season of enduring endless questions about possibly going undefeated, the Colts feel they are better equipped to focus on their ultimate goal of winning a title this season.
“This year, the attitude is not worrying about going undefeated, it’s winning the Super Bowl,” cornerback Jason David said. “That’s a good thing. This year, we’ve got a better understanding of what it means to be undefeated and in playoff form.”
Last season, the Colts’ 13-0 start was marked by lopsided wins. This year, however, seven of their victories have come by seven points or fewer, including a one-point win over struggling Tennessee on Oct. 8.
Coach Tony Dungy, though, thinks those narrow victories might help his team when the playoffs roll around.
“In most games, you’re in the fourth quarter and you’ve got to make some plays to win the game,” he said. “So when you do that, it gives you confidence that you can do it again.
“It’s a matter of doing what you’re supposed do, not necessarily anything spectacular. That’s what you have to do in the playoffs.”
Indianapolis is two games ahead of Baltimore, Denver and San Diego in the race for home-field advantage in the postseason, and owns tiebreakers over division leaders New England in the East and the Broncos in the West. The Colts also lead second-place Jacksonville by four games in the South.
Last week, with the Bills focusing on deep threats Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, the Colts relied on short passes and running the ball. Peyton Manning, who in years past might have been tempted to throw deep anyway, went 27-of-39 for 236 yards and one touchdown, including seven passes to tight end Ben Utecht.
“They just stayed real deep and double-covered the outside receivers,” said Manning, who leads the NFL with 18 passing touchdowns and a 104.5 rating. “When a team does that, taking away the deep patterns, you’ve got to be able to run the ball and you’ve got to be able to throw underneath and get yards after the catch. We were doing that.”
Still, the Colts, tied for third in the league with a plus-8 turnover differential, gave up two fumbles and were helped out by Rian Lindell’s missed 41-yard field goal attempt with 6:22 left. Indianapolis was able to run out the clock on the ensuing possession to win for the 31st time in 34 regular-season games.
“I thought we would be a little sharper today, but what happened is they had a very good game plan,” Dungy said. “It wasn’t anything we didn’t anticipate. … I wish we could have put it together a little better.”
The Colts, however, are second in the league with 158.3 passing yards allowed, which could be bad news for Romo. The Cowboys quarterback, who took over for Drew Bledsoe, is 2-1 as the starter for Dallas (5-4) and will be making his home debut as the team’s primary QB.
Romo threw for a career-best 308 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing in the Cowboys’ 27-10 win over Arizona on Sunday. He said he’s looking forward to playing against the Colts in front of a home crowd.
“It will be fun this week,” said Romo, who replaced Bledsoe during a home loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 23 before Dallas played three straight road games. “That’s why you play the game.”
Romo is the first Dallas quarterback since Troy Aikman to have three straight games of at least 250 yards passing. Coach Bill Parcells was relatively pleased with Romo’s play against the Cardinals.
“I thought Tony was OK,” Parcells said. “He had a little of that impulsiveness I worry about, but he got away with it. He hurried a couple of throws. Overall, though, I thought he did pretty well, particularly in the second half.”
Terrell Owens, who dropped a potential scoring pass in the Cowboys’ heartbreaking 22-19 loss to Washington the previous weekend, dropped the first ball thrown to him against the Cardinals, but finished with five catches for 96 yards, including a 51-yard TD reception. He’s tied for the league lead with seven TD catches.
The win did come at a price, as starting defensive end Greg Ellis injured his left Achilles’ tendon, ending his season. The injury could mean more playing time for rookie Bobby Carpenter, the 18th pick in this year’s draft.
Indianapolis has won the last three meetings between the teams, including a 20-3 victory Nov. 17, 2002 in the most recent matchup.