The Indianapolis Colts are just over a week away from a matchup with the only other undefeated team in the NFL, but coach Tony Dungy knows his team isn’t thinking about that just yet.
The Colts will be trying to keep their record unblemished Sunday when they visit the NFC South-leading Carolina Panthers.
Indianapolis beat Jacksonville 29-7 on Monday to become just the third team, along with Green Bay (1929-31) and St. Louis (1999-2001), to start 6-0 for three straight years.
“To do it three years in a row, it’s a lot of consistency and a lot of good players who are practicing hard and preparing hard,” Dungy told the team’s official Web site. “I don’t take it lightly.”
The defending Super Bowl champion Colts, who have won 11 straight games including playoffs, join 7-0 New England as the only unbeaten teams in the league.
Indianapolis and New England are set to square off on Nov. 4. While many fans may already be looking ahead to that game, Dungy says his Colts won’t fall into that trap.
“That’s the only way you can put together 13-game winning streaks, 9-game winning streaks. You can’t put together 6-game winning streaks if you do it any other way,” Dungy said. “Teams are too good. If you aren’t playing your best or close to your best, you’re not going to win. That’s what this team realizes.”
Dungy believes his 2007 team is even better than last season’s championship squad, and the Colts certainly seemed to prove his point in Jacksonville. The Jaguars went into the game having won four straight, and hadn’t allowed more than 17 points all season.
Quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 259 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score, Reggie Wayne caught nine passes for 131 yards, and Joseph Addai and Kenton Keith combined for 141 yards rushing.
The defense, meanwhile, knocked quarterback David Garrard out of the game and forced three turnovers while holding Jacksonville to 226 total yards.
The Colts rank second to the Patriots in the AFC with 399.7 total yards per game and third in the NFL defensively with 269.5 yards allowed per contest, including a league-low 162.2 passing.
“I think we’re playing better football than we were playing in November and December last year,” Dungy said. “We’ve been playing teams that have been hot or at the top of their division. The games have all been very meaningful games and we’ve been able to fight through a lot of things and win them.”
Eight-time Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison spent the last part of Monday’s game on the sidelines as he continues to recover from a bruised left knee. He missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but is expected to play against the Panthers.
The Colts have a tough schedule working against them - the Monday night game gave them a short week to prepare for the Panthers (4-2), who are coming off a bye. Indianapolis was 5-0 in 2003 after a Monday night win over Tampa Bay, but lost six days later to Carolina at home.
“I reminded the team that four years ago we won a big Monday night game and had to come back and play Carolina on six days rest and we didn’t win,” Dungy said. “We’ll focus on that.”
The Panthers are 3-0 all-time against the Colts, but the 2003 victory was the last meeting between the teams.
Carolina hopes to keep that unbeaten record intact with 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde under center again.
Coach John Fox said Friday he will give Testaverde his second straight start with David Carr still not at full strength.
“It’s not an indictment on David Carr by any stretch. I don’t feel he’s 100 percent,” Fox said. “He’s healthy enough to play, but I don’t think he’s 100 percent.”
The move came as a surprise considering Carr, recovering from a back injury, practiced Friday and is listed as probable. He had become the No. 1 quarterback after Jake Delhomme was lost for the season with an elbow injury, and led the Panthers to a 16-13 come-from-behind win at New Orleans despite needing painkillers for his back before the second half.
“It’s not a season-long decision. It will be game to game,” Fox said.
Testaverde did lead the Panthers to a win in their most recent game, 25-10 at Arizona on Oct. 14. Signed just four days earlier, Testaverde threw for 206 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith, and became the oldest starting quarterback to win a game in NFL history.
“Our guys rallied around him,” Fox said.
That win and Tampa Bay’s loss to Detroit last Sunday have left Carolina alone in first place in the NFC South.
Panthers running back DeShaun Foster practiced for a second straight day Friday despite a toe injury and is listed as probable. Foster, though, has been limited to 102 yards on 36 carries without a touchdown over the last two games.
DeAngelo Williams, meanwhile, rushed for 121 yards and a score against Arizona.
Carolina is 0-2 at home, where it plays six of its last 10 games.