INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS -- The baggage the Indianapolis Colts will carry into M&T; Bank Stadium this afternoon has nothing to do with Mayflower moving vans or clandestine, dead-of-the-night departures.
That's ancient history in this town and for this team.
But there's plenty of baggage for these Colts, enough to fit into a fleet of new moving vans. It has to do with how badly the playoffs have gone for the Colts with Peyton Manning as their quarterback, not to mention their current four-game road losing streak.
Erasing those memories might be as difficult for these Colts as it is for some fans in Baltimore to forget what team used to play there. The Colts could take a big step toward reversing their recent history by getting off to a good start against the Ravens today.
"I don't know that a fast start is important, but a slow start would be disastrous," Colts coach Tony Dungy said this week.
The Colts have not been a fast-starting team in the playoffs. In last week's 23-8 wild-card playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at the RCA Dome, the Colts dominated in yardage and time of possession but led only 9-0 at halftime on three field goals by Adam Vinatieri.
One other disturbing statistic sticking in the minds of the Colts: They have never come back to win a playoff game with Manning when trailing in the second half. Last year, after going 14-2 in the regular season, they fell behind 14-0 after the first quarter in the divisional game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and lost, 21-18.
Manning attributes this trend to playing quality teams in the playoffs.
"Obviously, it's tough to fall behind against good teams," said Manning, who is 4-6 overall in the postseason. "When you get a lead in playoff games, you feel like you ought to be able to keep it. Good teams ought to be able to keep the lead and protect it."
Perhaps more significant than their recent postseason history is that the Colts have not played well on the road in the second half of the 2006 season. Indianapolis has lost its past four road games, getting trounced by Jacksonville, 44-17, embarrassed by Houston, 27-24, and allowing 785 rushing yards in the past three.
"The only real time that I felt we just got outplayed was Jacksonville," Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. "The other losses were the kind of things we've done to ourselves. It wasn't crowd noise. It wasn't being affected by being on the road. We just didn't do what we normally do in situations."
The Colts were a different team defensively against the Chiefs, limiting All-Pro running back Larry Johnson to 32 yards on 13 carries. But they also were a different team to an extent offensively, with Manning throwing an uncharacteristic three interceptions.
Manning knows he will need rookie running back Joseph Addai and backup Dominic Rhodes to have similar success today to open up the passing game for receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, as well for as tight end Dallas Clark. Addai rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against the Chiefs, and Rhodes added 68 yards on 13 attempts.
Even if his team's running game works, Dungy knows Manning will need time to make his throws. In their last meeting in last season's opener in Baltimore, the Colts won easily, in part because Manning had so much time to throw. He threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns and wasn't sacked or intercepted in a 24-7 victory.
"That is the thing that you really have to handle," Dungy said. "They sack the quarterback. They put you in long-yardage situations. They get the interceptions and the fumbles, and we have to protect the ball. They do as good a job as anyone in the league at getting free guys on the quarterback. That's something that every time we've played these guys we've had to work on."