INDIANAPOLIS-- --Is Tony Dungy concerned about his players being distracted or even intrigued by the Colts' history with the city of Baltimore? Get ready to shake your head. The answer might be laughable if it weren't so sad.
Brace yourself ...
"Probably most of our guys - I'd say two-thirds of our players - don't even know that we started out in Baltimore," Dungy, the Colts coach, said yesterday. "So those two-thirds, they won't even know. You talk about Willie Mays and Jim Brown, these guys don't know who that is. So you talk about the Baltimore Colts, there would be a lot of guys who would not be aware of that."
Well, Coach, what about Johnny Unitas? They know him, right - the greatest two-legged specimen to ever wear a horseshoe?
"There would be very few," Dungy said, prompting snickers and sighs from the reporters in front of him. 'They might be able to spell it, but they wouldn't know who that is."
This isn't to suggest that history plays absolutely no role Saturday, when the Colts visit Baltimore to face the Ravens. But during the actual game, it'll be recent history - not ancient history - that seems most relevant.
Despite putting together one of their most complete wins of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, the Colts will come to Baltimore having lost their past four on the road. Noteworthy? You bet, especially when you consider that before this slump, they'd gone 28-12 on the road in the regular season since Dungy took the reins in 2002.
"Up until the last four times, we've been a pretty good road team," Dungy said. "That's one of the things we've been proud of. We just have to get that back."
But can that happen against the Ravens, a team that has won 11 of its past 12 at M&T; Bank Stadium? It's certainly not an easy task, but the Colts feel like they might have learned Saturday exactly what they need to do this weekend.
Against the Chiefs, the Colts' defense knew the limitations of Kansas City's passing game, so once they stopped the run, the Chiefs' offense moved with the grace and pace of a two-legged dog.
"[The Ravens] are going to try to pound the ball on us," Colts defensive tackle Raheem Brock said. "It's up to us up front to hold the line of scrimmage."
And that makes complete sense on paper. But somewhere in the back of their minds, the Colts' players must wonder why they've struggled to execute on the road, yet could be so effective at home.
The way Indianapolis players and coaches explained Saturday's surprising defensive performance, you'd think they knew all along a game like that was coming. Almost like a party guest that took the time to RSVP but didn't actually ring the doorbell until the party was already a couple of hours old and the punch bowl was half-empty.
Strong safety Bob Sanders, who had missed 12 games this season, returned to the lineup Saturday, but there was really no other explanation as to why the performance against the Chiefs was so different from those four road losses.
And here's the thing about the Colts' road woes: These losses didn't come against especially good teams. Of the four opponents, only one had a record above .500, yet the mighty Colts lost the games by a combined 40 points.
Quarterback Peyton Manning's numbers were almost identical to his season averages, so you can't pin the struggles solely on him. What's most striking about those road losses was the defensive breakdowns. The four victors followed a simple blueprint.
The Dallas Cowboys ran 36 rushing plays in their win. Then the Tennessee Titans more than doubled the Colts' ground output in Week 13, which was nothing compared to the next week. The Jacksonville Jaguars ran for 10 times more yards than the Colts (375 to 34), and used 42 carries to do it. That's the same number of attempts Houston made when the Texans shocked the Colts two weeks later.
And on Saturday? The Chiefs' Larry Johnson had just 13 carries and was held to 32 yards. It was the kind of defensive outing the Colts have been waiting for all season.
"This is the way it should have been all year," tight end Dallas Clark said. "I'm not going to worry about that; it's happening now. We've just got to keep it going. This is what the playoffs is about - playing your best ball. ... It was a complete game. I think it was the first one all year."
Doing it at home is different from on the road. And to win a second playoff game, the Colts have to duplicate their best performance of the season, the one they managed just once in 17 games. Can they do it again?
"Without a doubt," Colts defensive end Anthony McFarland said. "We need to duplicate it in one column: the win-loss column."
They're apparently ignorant of their team history. They're trying desperately to shake their recent history. And they have a huge task ahead if they want to get a step closer to making history.