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The Indianapolis Colts are no strangers to quick starts under coach Tony Dungy.
After a pair of road wins, the Colts look to keep rolling at home Sunday when they host the Denver Broncos in a matchup of division leaders.
The Colts beat Houston 30-24 last Sunday to improve to 3-0 for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years. The defending Super Bowl champions, who started 9-0 last season and 13-0 in 2005, are 17-2 in September under Dungy - a record that includes 11 straight wins in the season’s first month.
“What we like to say is that it puts pressure on other teams when you get off to a fast start,” Dungy said. “We can gives ourselves a little more margin for error down the road and that helped us last year when we didn’t play that well in November and December. It’s much better playing with the division lead than chasing somebody.”
The Colts have taken the early lead in the AFC South with consecutive road wins over division rivals, including a 22-20 victory at Tennessee on Sept. 16. They now return home, where they are 10-0 in the regular season since the start of last year and have won 21 of their last 22 games.
Joseph Addai ran for two touchdowns against the Texans and quarterback Peyton Manning completed 20 of 29 passes for 273 yards and a TD. However, Indianapolis settled for field goals on three of six trips into the red zone.
“We prefer to come away with touchdowns,” Dungy said. “We did score every time we got down there. We had chances for touchdowns. We’ll get sharper and we’ll be fine.
“Everybody is expecting us to win these games by 10 or 15 points. It doesn’t always happen that way in the NFL.”
The Colts rank fourth in the NFL with 398.3 total yards per game. Manning is fourth in the league with 291.0 passing yards per game and has thrown five touchdown passes and only one interception this season.
Addai, who ran for a season-low 72 yards on 22 carries against the Texans, might get more chances against the Broncos (2-1).
Denver owns the NFL’s best passing defense, with just 88.3 passing yards allowed per game, but is yielding 116.0 rushing yards per contest - tied with Miami for 29th in the league. The Broncos allowed Jacksonville to run for 186 yards in Sunday’s 23-14 home loss and posted their lowest time of possession total (21:18) in 15 years.
The Broncos have allowed a total of 90 points the last two times they’ve been to Indianapolis, for wild-card playoff games following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
“I mean, they’re definitely going to throw the ball,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said of Indianapolis. “But they obviously have a good running back and we haven’t stopped the run all year. So I know they’re going to do that.”
A healthy John Lynch would certainly help Denver’s rushing defense. The star safety had an MRI on Monday after a strained groin sidelined him for most of the Jaguars game, and his status for this contest is uncertain.
The Broncos also had problems on offense last week. Denver piled up 911 total yards in wins over Buffalo and Oakland, but managed only 265 against the Jaguars. The Broncos scored on just two of 10 possessions, turning the ball over on an interception, a fumble and twice on downs.
Running back Travis Henry entered the game with 267 rushing yards, but had just 35 on 11 carries, and Denver managed just 47 yards - the fourth-worst total since Mike Shanahan began coaching the team in 1995 - on 18 rushing attempts.
“When we get on the field, no one can stop our offense. Only we can,” said Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught seven passes for a career-high 133 yards. “That’s what we did today.”
The Colts, meanwhile, yielded only 40 rushing yards against the Texans, the lowest total allowed by an Indianapolis defense since November 2005.
Denver quarterback Jay Cutler also underwent an MRI on Monday on his sprained ankle, but said he is confident he will play against the Colts.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of time left. … I think I’ll be able to practice and get a full week in.”
The Colts have won three of their last five regular-season games against Denver.