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Colts ready for another run as NFL's last unbeaten team

The Joker

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Yahoo! Sports Full Story


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Tony Dungy hoped to avoid all those perfect-record questions this year. Not a chance now.


Sunday's win at New England, coupled with the Chicago Bears shocking loss to Miami, has Dungy shaking his head as the Colts enter the second half of the season as the NFL's last unbeaten team again.


Sure, Dungy is thrilled with an 8-0 record, just not the prospect of facing the weekly scrutiny or circus-like environment that are certain to shift from Chicago to Indianapolis this week as the Colts chase perfection for the second straight year.


"I'm really mad at (Chicago coach) Lovie Smith because he was supposed to keep all that talk in Chicago," Dungy joked Monday. "I haven't talked to him yet, but I will. I guess it's on us now."


If the Colts have one advantage, it's experience with these situations.


In 2004, the Colts dealt with the all-consuming media blitz as Peyton Manning chased the touchdown passes record. Last year, it was their 13-0 start and when that ended, the Colts again were thrust into the spotlight for a different reason -- the suicide of Dungy's oldest son.


This week's chapter: a shot at NFL history.


A win over Buffalo (3-5) would make Indy the first NFL team to ever go 9-0 in back-to-back seasons, and Dungy believes this team may be better suited to handling the pressure.


"Maturity is such an important thing because you go through so many ups and downs during a season and you have to be steady," he said. "This is one of the most mature teams I've been around."


The reality is there are enough flaws to make few believe the Colts can seriously challenge the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the league's only perfect team. They're allowing a league-worst 165.7 yards rushing per game and haven't been blowing out opponents like they did a year ago.


In some ways, though, that may make the Colts more dangerous.


Instead of receiving adulation, doubters are explaining why they can't go 16-0, and, of course, Colts players learned last year that nothing matters if they don't reach the Super Bowl.


But amid the obvious problems are signs Indy may have what it takes.


It ranks second in the NFL behind Baltimore with a turnover margin of plus-10, and two-time MVP Peyton Manning is on pace for a career-low six interceptions. The ground game has become more effective and the defense proved it was good enough to beat two top AFC contenders in New England and Denver. Both on the road.


More important, they've found a variety of ways to win.


When the defense struggled, Manning worked his late-game magic. When the offense struggled, kick returner Terrence Wilkins provided a boost, and the Colts have done most of their damage with two key players -- Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders and receiver Brandon Stokley -- out because of injuries.


"We're not playing as well as we did last year, but I like where we are and we've found a resiliency and ways to win games," Dungy said. "That's a good quality to have. We're still playing winning football and we haven't played our best game yet."


The Colts also have survived their most difficult stretch.


They own road wins over nearly half of the league's division leaders -- New England in the AFC East, Denver in the AFC West and the New York Giants in the NFC East -- and they're 5-0 against last year's playoff teams. That kind of schedule doesn't lend itself to blowouts.


A win over division rival Jacksonville, and the Jags' improbable loss to Houston, has also given the Colts a three-game lead in the AFC South.


Indy also has a two-game lead over its nearest contenders for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs and with the wins over Denver and New England, the road to the Super Bowl is likely to go through Indy again.


The question is how many more wins can the Colts string together?


Only one team with a winning record remains on the schedule, when they visit Jacksonville (5-3) on Dec. 10. They still visit Dallas on Nov. 19 and face Philadelphia and Cincinnati at home.


Oddly enough, they close the season at home against a Miami team that just might have to protect its image as the NFL's only unbeaten team.


But experience has taught Dungy it's not even worth pondering yet, or dealing with another round of questions about playing his starters if the Colts wrap up the top seed early again.


"We're not going to get too caught up in it because I think most of our guys have gone through it before," Dungy said. "Last year we had all the people in from the different pregame shows and the radio shows, and I think our guys kind of kept in the building. You can't focus on it."

Edited by Eminem
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