Colts’ historic chase continues against Broncos

Denver coach Josh McDaniels understands what the Colts face this

week.

He was in New England a year ago when the Patriots were setting

the NFL record for most consecutive regular-season wins. Two years

ago, he was helping the Patriots complete a perfect regular season.

He’s heard the questions, survived the spectacle and become a part

of NFL lore.

Now it’s Indianapolis’ turn in the spotlight, and McDaniels’ new

team is standing between the Colts and a record-setting 22nd

straight regular-season victory.

“I think the fact they’ve won 21 in a row is a huge

accomplishment, but I don’t necessarily know that it takes away or

distracts you from your focus on each individual game,” McDaniels

said. “I certainly don’t think it did with us (the Patriots), and

I certainly don’t believe it’s affecting the Colts.”

McDaniels wouldn’t expect anything less from Indy, which has

been the epitome of consistency over the past decade.

The Colts are 12-0 for the second time in five years. They’ve

won six division titles in seven seasons, are the only team in NFL

history with seven straight 12-win seasons and are headed back to

the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.

On Sunday, they’re looking for a trifecta: the record, keeping

the perfect season intact, and clinching the AFC’s top playoff seed

with three games left.

Need more?

Indy owns the NFL’s best record (126-46) since 1999, and a win

over the Broncos (8-4) would give the Colts 114 wins this decade,

breaking a tie with the 1990s San Francisco 49ers for most wins by

an NFL team in any decade.

It’s a lot to accomplish in a regular work shift.

“We’d love to take care of all of it, and we probably don’t

know all of it – I can promise you that,” Indy defensive end

Dwight Freeney said. “But, really, our focus is on the Denver

Broncos, and this week the thing everyone is worried about is

getting a first-round bye. We’d definitely like to seize the

moment.”

Just as McDaniels suspected.

Colts players clearly would prefer to focus only on the game,

rather than the hype. Almost to a man, players said this week that

they’re not talking about records or undefeated seasons, just the

need to improve.

But Caldwell is making no secret of the significance of Sunday’s

game.

“I think you diminish your profession if you don’t acknowledge

milestones and talk about them,” said Caldwell, who has the best

start of any rookie NFL coach ever. “Some of these guys have put a

lot of blood, sweat and tears into making some of these things

happen. We talk about milestones, but we don’t get stuck on

them.”

The game actually has more ramifications for McDaniels and the

Broncos.

While Caldwell and McDaniels both started their head coaching

careers at 6-0, Denver followed its perfect start with four

straight losses, knocking it out of the AFC West lead. Since then,

the Broncos have beaten the New York Giants and Kansas City to put

themselves back in the wild-card hunt.

With San Diego visiting NFC East leader Dallas this week and

hosting AFC North leader Cincinnati next week, a win over the Colts

could help Denver re-establish itself as a division contender.

So the Colts’ record chase means nothing to the Broncos.

“Twenty-one or 30, you just have to win the one,” quarterback

Kyle Orton said. “I guess it always gets down just to focusing on

that one game and just playing good football.”

In Denver, that means running the ball.

Last week against Kansas City, Denver finished with 245 yards

rushing, its highest single-game total in four years, and the

Broncos do have Orton, a Purdue alum who won the first

regular-season game ever played at Lucas Oil Stadium. He, not

three-time MVP Peyton Manning, is the only quarterback with a

perfect record in the 2-year-old stadium’s history.

The Broncos’ biggest concern is stopping Manning, who produced

five straight fourth-quarter comebacks in November before winning

by a more comfortable 10-point margin last week. He needs 13 yards

to pass Warren Moon for fourth on the NFL’s career yardage list and

is coming off his first interception-free game in five weeks.

Denver, however, comes in with the NFL’s No. 2 pass defense, the

NFL’s sacks leader in Elvis Dumervil, and a secondary full of Pro

Bowlers.

“It’s hard to imagine a secondary I’ve ever played against that

has this much experience between (Champ) Bailey and Ty Law and

(Brian) Dawkins, even (Renaldo) Hill and (Andre’) Goodman have been

around a long time,” Manning said. “They are stingy against the

pass, don’t give up many points and it will be tough to move the

ball against them.”

Manning has solved those problems before, which is why the Colts

are on the cusp of breaking New England’s record.

Even if McDaniels thinks the most impressive thing isn’t the

streak.

“It stretches over more than one season, so you kind of get

more caught up and focused in this year, and the fact that they’re

undefeated. I think that’s a big accomplishment,” McDaniels said.

“The accomplishments and the records are great and they’re made to

be broken, and they’re a team that’s certainly capable of breaking

many. It’s a great team.”