By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — According to Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, strong safety Bob Sanders might be cleared to play Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals visit Lucas Oil Stadium.
How much practice time Sanders gets prior to the game, however, has yet to be determined. He has missed the last three games due to swelling in his right knee.
“I actually don’t know how much he’ll be practicing. That’s what we have to do as a staff is try to find that balance of what days to practice him on, how much practice to give him so he can get sharp and not have his knee swell up. Whether it’s going to be what he did last year, which was practice on Thursday, we haven’t really figured that out yet,” Dungy said Monday.
He added that the Colts almost brought Sanders back for the game with Cleveland this past Sunday.
“It was close. We were toying with the idea, and we just decided to give it one more week. So, I would think he has a good shot to play this week,” Dungy said.
The news on middle linebacker Gary Brackett and defensive tackle Keyunta Dawson wasn’t quite as positive. Brackett had X-rays after Sunday’s game at Cleveland, but a full report has not been released. He will most likely sit out this week’s home meeting with Cincinnati and could be out longer.
Dawson is expected to miss a couple of weeks or more. He incurred a pulled hamstring late in the second quarter of the Colts’ game at Cleveland on Sunday. More details on how long he may be out is expected in a few days.
“Gary Brackett has a fibula injury, the extent of which will be determined [late Monday] or [today] when we get the final results of the [medical] tests,” Colts team president Bill Polian said on his Monday night radio show.
“Keyunta Dawson has a hamstring strain and I don’t know the significance of that. Although when looking at it on the tape, it was ugly. I would imagine it’s relatively significant. But we’ll see when the test results come back. Given the kind of day it was and given the slipperiness of the field in certain areas, that’s probably not bad in terms of the kinds of totals that can mount up at this time of the year.”
Weakside linebacker Freddy Keiaho went to the sideline Sunday with an ankle injury. He missed only two plays. Keiaho will end up starting at middle linebacker this week if Brackett is unable to play.
Outside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, who played both weakside and middle linebacker Sunday in Cleveland, will probably get the start on the weak side this week against Cincinnati. Hagler bumped his knee against Browns but wound up getting work in the middle for a few plays when Keiaho went out with an ankle injury.
Dawson will be replaced by several players, most notably Antonio Johnson and Darrell Reid. Daniel Muir, who has seen little game work since joining the team earlier in the season from the Green Bay Packers, is another possibility.
“It’ll be a combination of everybody. Darrell has played well when he’s gotten in there, and fortunately we do have Dan and he’s been here and been trained and I think is very healthy right now, so we should be in good shape,” Dungy said.
“Even after Key[unta] got hurt, Darrell did go in there and make some plays and make things happen. Antonio, I thought, did play well.”
Center Jeff Saturday (calf) is not expected back in the starting lineup for at least another week or so. Saturday was hurt in the Colts’ win at San Diego two weeks ago. Initial reports had him missing three to four weeks, but the Pro Bowl offensive lineman might be back sooner.
“All I can go by is last time he had [a similar injury] it was two weeks, so that’s what we had planned on. Jeff will be lobbying. I saw him on his TV show [Sunday] night and it kind of sounded like he didn’t answer the question, but I’d say one more week,” Dungy said.
Safety Matt Giordano (ankle) was rolled up on during the second half of the Colts’ game at Cleveland on Sunday. He returned a few plays later and is expected to be available for this week’s home game with Cincinnati.
• Any win is good — Not long after Peyton Manning entered the NFL as the Indianapolis Colts’ top draft pick in 1998, he was taught a lesson by then-Colts coach Jim Mora.
“You never take a win for granted. I learned that in my 11 years [in the league]. Jim Mora, my old coach, used to always preach that. Don’t ever take a win for granted, so we don’t,” the Indianapolis quarterback said after Sunday’s 10-6 victory over the Browns.
The Colts won their fifth straight game and completed an undefeated month of November despite not scoring an offensive touchdown in the Cleveland game. The win marked the fifth straight season that the Colts had not lost in November and the first time since 1975 that the franchise had posted five wins in the month.
With the win over Cleveland, Indianapolis is now 8-4 for the season — 5-2 on the road, 6-2 against other AFC teams — and remains as the conference’s top wild-card prospect. The Colts, though, were held without an offensive touchdown for the first time in a regular-season game since the same two franchises faced off in the 2003 season opener, Indianapolis coming away with a 9-6 decision.
It was the team’s much-maligned defense that rose up and shut down the Cleveland offense, sacking Browns quarterback Derek Anderson three times and forcing one interception. Defensive end Robert Mathis’ fumble recovery and 37-yard return with 9:45 remaining in the fourth quarter accounted for the game’s only touchdown. The play was set up by defensive end Dwight Freeney’s backside hit on Anderson, forcing the fumble.
Mathis had two sacks in the game, giving him a team-leading nine for the year. The touchdown was his first at any level of competition.
“Our defense won the game for us. Obviously, we moved the ball well at times but just got down near the end zone and came away with three points. That’s disappointing … something that we’ve been good at [scoring touchdowns in the red zone],” Manning said.
“In the second half, we really didn’t finish drives. Couldn’t find the continuity there. But the defense really made a play there in the fourth quarter, which was critical. And it was enough to win the game. Everybody wants to get better, but offensively we need to play much better [this] week [against the Bengals].”
For his part, Dungy came away from the Cleveland game proud of his team’s overall effort, especially getting through a rugged schedule that included games with Tennessee, New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego and the Browns. Indianapolis went 5-1 in those matchups.
And he knows that neither Cincinnati and Detroit, despite their combined 1-22-1 won-loss records, can be considered pushovers the next couple of weeks either.
“When you look at playing New England at home and then Houston in a division game at home and then having to go to Pittsburgh, San Diego and Cleveland, people would have said, ‘Hey, that’s going to be tough duty.’ And especially at the time, we were 3-4. We weren’t exactly rolling and hitting on all cylinders. But our team, they have faith and they just played one week at a time,” Dungy said.
“And that’s what we said. Don’t worry about the whole schedule, don’t worry about the end of the year, don’t worry about the playoffs. Just play every week and prepare every week. And that’s what we’ve done. And that’s what we’ve got to continue to do now in December.
“One thing people will say is, ‘Oh, you’re coming home for two weeks and you’ve got Cincinnati and Detroit.’ You can’t look at it that way. We’ve got to do the exact same thing that we’ve done in November and keep this momentum going.”