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.
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.''