News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 31, 2008

Colts carry momentum to San Diego, first stop on tough road to Super Bowl

By Tom James

INDIANAPOLIS — Momentum gained in the regular season doesn’t necessarily translate into postseason success.

Coch Tony Dungy’s Colts will carry a nine-game winning streak into Saturday night’s AFC wildcard game with the San Diego Chargers. Norv Turner’s Chargers, meanwhile, have won four straight. So who’s mojo is better? Which team is hotter?

“No, there really isn’t [a way to gauge momentum] heading into the postseason. The playoffs are completely different. You’re playing against good teams. Everybody you play is tough. You have to come out and win. And what you did last week really isn’t going to have a bearing on what you do this week. Hopefully we can go out there and get a postseason streak started,” the Indianapolis coach said this week.

If there is a team that could carry its success from the regular season on into the playoffs, though, it could very well be the Colts.

Indianapolis has played well on the road in recent years, posting a 41-15 mark (.732 away from the friendly confines of the RCA Dome/Lucas Oil Stadium since the start of the 2002 season. That’s the NFL’s second-best road winning percentage during that time period, coming in just behind New England’s .750 mark (42-14).

As the AFC’s fifth-seeded team, the Colts won’t have a chance to play another home game this season unless the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens also get onto a postseason roll. Which pretty much means that Dungy’s crew will probably have to keep their travel bags packed the rest of the way.

“We’ve always been a good road team. People don’t always believe that, but if you just look at the facts and don’t let the perception get in the way, we’ve won just about as many games on the road as we’ve won at home. I think we’re well-suited to go on the road because our offense is a veteran offense. We can score points on the road,” he said.

“That’s usually what you have trouble doing when you go on the road playing against good defenses and the noise, but we’ve been able to do that. I don’t think we’re any better off or worse off. We have done it this year. We’ve had to go win some tough games and games that we needed in tough venues, but in the playoffs everything starts over 0-0 and right now we have to win four games.”

The fact that the Colts are facing San Diego once again is pretty much a wash for both sides. Both teams know each other very well. There won’t be a lot of surprises when Indianapolis and the Chargers take the field at Qualcomm Stadium.

Familiarity breeds respect. And the Colts have a high regard for the AFC West champions.

“It’s kind of similar with us and New England the past few years, maybe even us and Baltimore. It’s almost like a division game. You’re playing them twice a year. You’re definitely seeing them once a year. Obviously, there’s a lot of familiarity amongst the players. There’s always going to be changes in schemes each time you play, wrinkles here and there, but you do know the players,” said quarterback Peyton Manning.

“I think the thing is I know how good of a team they are and I know the problems they can cause. Like I said, defensively they’re a challenge to move the ball against. I know it’s important for us to try to score some points because their offense is really playing at a high level right now.”

• Injury list — No decision on the availability of rookie offensive linemen Mike Pollak (ankle) and Jamey Richard (foot/ankle), or rookie wide receiver Pierre Garcon (knee), until sometime today or Friday. Neither Pollak or Richard have taken part in practice this week.

Running back Dominic Rhodes (chest/ribs), weak side linebacker Freddy Keiaho (hamstring), wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (hip pointer), safeties Melvin Bullitt (shoulder) and Bob Sanders (knee), and rookie defensive tackle Eric Foster (neck/burner) are all expected to play against the Chargers on Saturday night.

n Rivers just having fun — Colts fans still remember last year’s AFC divisional playoff game loss to San Diego, but it had nothing to do with the way Indianapolis played in the game.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had a lengthy shouting match with some of those in attendance at the RCA Dome. Even after he was sidelined with a knee injury, Rivers just kept talking.

“I just play the game and have a lot of fun. As you picture a 10-year old in the back yard down in North Alabama, where I grew up, I kind of play it the same way, where you’re going back and forth with your buddies and you’re playing. I kind of have that same mentality, obviously with a little more structure and at a lot higher of a level,” he said this week.

“Speaking of the fans back there [in Indianapolis], there’s really nothing of any tenacity between any of it. It was really fun, playing with a lot of fun. You got the guys behind you [in the stands] that give it to you all game, every time Peyton [Manning] throws a completion and says, ‘That’s how you do it right there.’ So you’re kind of interacting with these guys for three-and-a-half hours. I think the thing I did learn there, though, is you’re not going to win. So I’ve left that part of it alone. But as far as playing with passion and emotion, I think it works to my benefit as long as it works to our team’s benefit, as long as it’s a positive. I never want it to come and get in the way of what we’re trying to get done.”