INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Streak evokes all sorts of reactions inside the Colts’ locker room.
Matt Hasselbeck marvels at it. D’Qwell Jackson sees it a badge of honor. Adam Vinatieri is just plain wowed.
Three longtime veterans who have seemingly seen it all during their pro careers never anticipated they’d be part of something like this – an NFL record 16 straight wins against division teams.
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”It means we’ve established a culture of winning. It’s nothing to sneeze at,” 2013 NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis said. ”It’s a great accomplishment, but at the same time it’s required of us.”
Few teams have dominated their division as thoroughly or as long as the Colts.
Since realignment in 2002, the Colts have won nine division titles, finished second three times, reached the playoffs 12 times in 13 seasons, and are 63-18 against the AFC South with four perfect marks inside the division.
New England is the only team even close during that span. The Patriots have won 11 division titles, finished second twice and are 62-17 against the AFC East, but with only two perfect marks against division foes.
Over those same years, no other NFL team has won more than 56 games against its division. And the only other team to win 15 in a row against one division was Miami, which did it during their 1972-73 back-to-back Super Bowl runs.
And after breaking the record with Thursday night’s 27-20 win in Houston, the Colts (3-2) are 3-0 through the first half of their round-robin play, with two road wins – and with two victories behind backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
It’s not happenstance.
”There’s probably a lot of different reasons for what we’ve been able to do and one pretty simple thing – we’ve had great stability and play at quarterback,” Hasselbeck said. ”The other teams in this division have had kind of musical chairs at that position.”
Having a clear franchise quarterback certainly helps.
So does having a Super Bowl starter as a backup and playing in what is generally considered the weakest sector in football.
In his first start since November 2012, Hasselbeck led the Colts to the tying score in the fourth quarter and the winning score late in overtime against Jacksonville.
On Thursday, the 40-year-old Hasselbeck again did not commit a turnover, guided the Colts to a 13-point lead in the first half and kept them ahead the entire game with solid, methodical drives.
But even before Hasselbeck’s effort Thursday night, when he was still trying to fight back from a virus, there have been plenty of memorable moments.
Win No. 1 came in the 2012 regular-season finale against Houston, a game that will always be remembered as the return of coach Chuck Pagano to the sideline. Win No. 3, at Houston, was a game marred by the collapse of then-coach Gary Kubiak at halftime. So perhaps it was fitting that the record breaker also came against the Texans.
Win No. 9 was Reggie Wayne’s last 100-yard game with the Colts. Win No. 10 came just hours after Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton celebrated the birth of his daughter. And the last two came with Andrew Luck on the bench.
”You can’t put a price tag on it,” Pagano said when asked about the value of Hasselbeck. ”You can look at the statistics, I think, two weeks ago, teams that had to play with their backup QB, it wasn’t good, and we were one of two or three times that came out on the winning side of that.”
Now the Colts time to rest before entering a tough five-game stretch against some of the league’s top teams and top quarterbacks: Brady and the defending champion Patriots (3-0); Drew Brees and the Saints (1-3); Cam Newton and the Panthers (4-0); Peyton Manning the Broncos (4-0); and Matt Ryan and the Falcons (4-0).
And if they’re going to match the preseason expectations and contend for a Super Bowl title, they’ll have to do more than win inside the division.
They must prove they can win outside it before returning to divisional play Dec. 13 against Jacksonville (1-3). Indy has lost to the Jets and Bills, both from the AFC East, this year.
”It’s new to me,” said Jackson, who spent his first eight seasons in Cleveland. ”Over my career, I was usually on the other end of that. That’s what you want. In order for us to get to the postseason you have to win your division.”
NOTES: Pagano said he was unaware of any significant injuries from Thursday night and did not provide an update on Luck’s injured right shoulder. Luck was not available in the locker room but now has 10 days to rest before the Patriots game.
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