Colts bumble their way to 0-6 start
All those close wins the Colts have become known for have escaped them this year.
Last season, Indy was 6-6 and faced the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Peyton Manning helped orchestrate four straight victories by a combined 20 points, and the Colts won the AFC South again.
This season, Manning is out indefinitely after neck surgery, and the Colts have lost their past five games by a combined 32 points. Indy (0-6), off to its worst start since 1997, will try for its first win Sunday night at New Orleans.
Lately, the Colts have been up against more than just their opponents.
''We're hurting ourselves,'' center Jeff Saturday said. ''We're doing things that, we talk about week in and week out, we can't do. Lose the turnover battle. Make mistakes at critical times in the game. It's little things here and there.''
Indy hung tough as usual this past Sunday, but lost 27-17 at Cincinnati. The fourth quarter against Cincinnati offered a snapshot of Indy's season.
First, Nate Clements blocked Adam Vinatieri's potential game-tying field goal. A few minutes later, Carlos Dunlap returned Pierre Garcon's fumble 35 yards for the clinching touchdown. The Colts lost the turnover battle 3-0.
''That's football,'' defensive end Robert Mathis said. ''The difference between winning and losing is paper thin.''
Paper thin, perhaps, but too thick for the Colts to slice through. After years of ripping through defenses, the Colts have the second-worst offense in the NFL.
The old recipe for victory hasn't worked. The Colts used to get leads, then use Mathis and Dwight Freeney to pressure quarterbacks, disrupt offenses and stay ahead. This season, Indy has blown double-digit leads against Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Colts rank 26th out of 32 teams in total defense.
''There should be some frustration,'' Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. ''There should be some disappointment. I'd be a little upset if there wasn't.''
Quarterback Curtis Painter has been an unexpected bright spot. After replacing Kerry Collins (concussion) against Pittsburgh, he has completed 55 percent of his passes and thrown one interception in 102 attempts. His 93.0 quarterback rating is fourth in the AFC, ahead of bigger names like Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
But it hasn't translated to wins. It's a tough place to be for a team that won the Super Bowl after the 2006 season and lost to New Orleans in the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.
''We've been to the mountaintop,'' Mathis said. ''We're in the valley low right now. Got to keep fighting.''
Despite recent problems in crucial situations, many of these players were on the Colts team that helped Caldwell win his first 14 games as coach in 2009. Their belief that they can succeed hasn't swayed.
''Confidence comes from being on the good teams,'' Mathis said. ''We've been winning for years. If you don't have any confidence, you shouldn't be here as a pro. If you don't have the confidence, changes need to be made.''
That confidence has been tested.
''We're having a tough time right now,'' Caldwell said. ''I don't want to see any happy faces. We've got a job to do, and we haven't been getting it done.''
The Colts still say they won't quit.
''Ten and six, that would be great,'' Saturday said. ''That's what I'm shooting for. The way I look at it, I want to win them all, and I've been on teams where you can win them all. Just because you're having a down stretch doesn't mean you throw the towel in, doesn't mean you look for an average season. We right the ship and start playing good football, we can do some good things.''
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