INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts want to finally get things right.
Some cheers, a turnover, maybe better special teams play. Hey, just about anything would work these days.
“That’s the ultimate goal, winning,” Indy running back Delone Carter said. “I feel like if you get that first chip in the iceberg, it’ll break the whole thing down.”
This week’s ice-breaking scenario seems like a perfect setup for a team desperately needing a win.
Atlanta (4-3) is coming off a bye week, has struggled with consistency all season and is 1-13 all-time against the Colts with no road wins in this series, which began in 1966.
But if the Colts have learned anything during this dreadful losing streak, it’s this: gaudy numbers don’t mean a thing.
At 0-8, Indy is one of two remaining winless teams in the NFL. The Colts’ stretch of nine consecutive 10-win seasons is over. Their record-tying streak of nine straight playoff appearances is likely to be gone soon, too.
Their dominance of the AFC South is history, at least this season, and if the Colts don’t win one of these next three home games, it will be their worst start since going 0-13 in 1986.
The skid has prompted radio show callers to debate everything from the status of coach Jim Caldwell to the possibility of tanking the season so Indy can draft Peyton Manning’s eventual successor in April.
“I don’t think that’s fair to the players who are playing right now,” Peyton Manning said. “We might win eight in a row, starting Sunday, and we certainly hope to do that. But when you look at guys like Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne, these guys are fighting for their lives every game, and we’ve never talked about what draft pick we’ve had before. I don’t think it’s fair now.”
Things won’t get any easier for Manning’s teammates in the near future.This week, the Colts must contend with a dangerous Falcons offense.
They have Matt Ryan, the quarterback Colts vice chairman Bill Polian described last year as the closest thing to Manning. They have Roddy White, who caught a league-high 115 passes last season. They have Julio Jones, the fleet rookie who could create matchup problems in Indy’s inexperienced secondary -- if he can return from a hamstring injury.
They have Tony Gonzalez, No. 2 all-time on the NFL’s receptions list. And they have Michael Turner, the running back who broke up Indy’s perfect 2005 season with a long, game-sealing TD run while with San Diego.
That group, minus Jones, was good enough to post the best record in the NFC last year, and it’s enough to send shockwaves through a defense that is ranked No. 31 in the league and hasn’t forced a turnover in five weeks.
“Five games with no turnovers, that’s in the past,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. “All we can do now is try to focus on trying to get some turnovers. Like I said, flying to the ball, running to the ball, forcing some fumbles, trying to get some good jumps on the quarterback and when the opportunity comes just try to make a play.”
The Falcons don’t think Indy is too far away from a win.
“We know that they’re a very capable team, and they’ve got some really strong points on both sides of the football and in special teams,” coach Mike Smith said. “I like some of the things that they do.”
Smith should also like the way things have been going in Atlanta.
The upset at Detroit two weeks ago, gave the Falcons their first back-to-back wins this season and two weeks to ponder how the renewed emphasis on balance between running and passing could help them in the schedule’s second half.
“I think we got back to focusing on the things we can (do) to maintain the running game and the passing game and not be one-dimensional,” Turner said. “That’s our strength, that we can be run and pass, use all of our weapons.”
In past years, that’s how the Colts have operated.
Without Manning, Indy has changed the game plan, simplified the approach and done anything it can to escape this losing streak.
Even if means using the home fans to help them rally.
“We’ve got a lot of football left,” Saturday said. “We’re talking to guys about being consistent, and making sure you go out there and compete. Our practices have been very good, and we’ve had real sharp practices. We just have to carry it over. We’re just making mistakes on Sunday that are costing us games, and we’ve got to improve on that.”