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Colts get sense of relief after season's 1st win

Jim Caldwell had the same serious, intense look he always brings to Monday's news conference.

He just sounded different.

Less than 24 hours after eliminating the possibility of a winless season, Caldwell took a deep breath and sounded relieved that the Colts could finally focus on something else.

"Any time you get a win, it's good, and these guys have been working hard," Caldwell said. "The guys haven't been complaining, they've worked together, they've fought together, so it's good to get a good result. I think it gives our guys a little bit of a lift."

The Colts (1-13) will take anything after this miserable season.

Peyton Manning hasn't played a down for the first time in his career and won't play in the final two games, either. Team vice chairman Bill Polian made that clear after Sunday's 27-13 victory over Tennessee.

The loss of defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt, to season-ending rotator cuff injuries in the first two weeks, left a huge void.

Coaches have had to constantly shuffle the offensive line and secondary, creating more holes, and it took 14 games and three different quarterbacks before the Colts posted their first win without Manning in 14 years. The last quarterback not named Manning to win in a Colts jersey was Jim Harbaugh.

Indy went 50 weeks between victories, losing 14 straight including last January's loss to the Jets. Worse, they didn't even have a lead for more than 500 minutes of game action this season, finally ending that when Adam VInatieri ended the first quarter Sunday with a 47-yard field goal to give the Colts a 3-0 advantage.

But winning just one isn't good enough for a team that posted an NFL-record 115 regular-season victories over the last decade.

"It means a lot (to win), but we're a proud ball club so one game out of 13 or 14, we still have a ways to go," defensive end Robert Mathis said Sunday afternoon.

There's no time to celebrate with Houston (10-4) coming to town Thursday night, the AFC South title already in hand.

While one win won't change the national perception of this Colts' team, the atmosphere already has. In Sunday's locker room, players were smiling and joking. Even the usually stoic Caldwell seemed more at ease in front of reporters Monday.

"It's been a tough stretch," Caldwell said. "It was good to get a win, but I was not only happy for him (Dan Orlovsky), I was happy for a lot of guys on our team. I worry about my men and it was good for all of them to get a win."

Until Sunday's postgame availability, most of the questions focused on Manning and the possibility of a winless season.

Now they're all about Manning, whether the Colts can duplicate the feat of their last 0-13 win team which won its final three and whether Indianapolis could even lose its grip on the coveted No. 1 draft choice. St. Louis and Minnesota are just one game ahead of the Colts at 2-12.

When asked whether he's considered such a possibility, Caldwell said: "I don't. I focus in on the things that matter and what matters is our preparation for this next game. I'm sure there a lot of things out there that are being said on a number of different topics, but we try and stay focused and get ourselves prepared for the next game."

Everyone else, though, still wants answers about the question that won't go away -- Manning's health.

The four-time league MVP finally suited up in a helmet and pads last week, took snaps and threw with his teammates to see how much progress he'd made since having neck surgery Sept. 8. While Polian said Sunday that Manning had not made enough progress to play in a game this season, he acknowledged that Manning may continue to practice with his teammates if he feels up to it.

Those questions are not likely to dissipate until the Colts decide whether to pay him a $28 million bonus or let him become a free agent, and if they keep him, well, the questions are likely to linger until training camp opens next summer.

But Caldwell doesn't believe it's a distraction.

"When you say 'see him back,' he hasn't gone anywhere. He's been working. It's not any new occurrence, they've just been ramping up his activities more and more and more," Caldwell said. "He's not one of those guys who goes off and rehabs in Tahiti. He's here. He's been here. So it's not like he's just arrived."