Another week, just another game?
Sunday night’s nationally televised home game with the Denver Broncos will mark the return of former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium.
Yes, the Broncos will bring a 6-0 record into the game against Indianapolis’ 4-2 mark. Denver is tied with Kansas City, the NFL’s only other undefeated team, for first place in the AFC West. The Colts, at 4-2, have a one-game lead for first place in the AFC South.
But the story in the days leading up to the game is Manning’s trip back to face the team that originally drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998.
“Everybody’s been waiting for the 20th of October for a long time, wanted to talk about it. It’s finally here,” Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday morning.
“Obviously big week, big game. Got a great team coming in here. National stage. Sunday Night Football. Great opportunity for us to get back on track and play a great, great football team. Got a roster that’s littered with talent. Got balance all over the place — offense, defense and special teams. A couple first-ballot Hall of Famers on that squad.”
Pagano knows all about preparing for a Peyton Manning-led offense. He did that a few times as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator.
He’s also aware of the affection and respect the Colts’ fans have for the team’s former signal caller, for what he accomplished on and off the field during his time with the team.
“What can you say or what can’t you say about Peyton? What Peyton has done for [the Colts’] organization, this city, the fans and for football in general speaks for itself, obviously,” he said.
“I know everybody [in the Colts’ headquarters] probably and our fans will have mixed emotions on Sunday, but I know at the end of the day that [Indianapolis’]12th man will be behind the horseshoe and our football team like they always have.”
Pagano admitted that he doesn’t have to prepare his team for the hoopla that will be associated with Manning’s return. His major concern is more about having his team ready to play against a very good Broncos team.
“The obvious is the obvious. It is what it is. We’ve got things to clean up, so we’re going to go back to work. We’re going to try to get better [this week]. Try to play better Sunday than we played last Monday [in a 19-9 loss at San Diego]. So that’s our goal. That’s always our goal. We’re going to stick to the process,” he said.
One thing he stressed is that he doesn’t expect second-year Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to try to equal what Manning does play for play.
“No, he knows what he has to do. He knows, everybody knows what they have to do. We have to play better than we played on Monday night. We have to execute. We have to convert on third down. We have to get off the field on third down,” the Colts’ coach said.
“We got to score touchdowns in the red area. We got to force field goals, we got to tackle, we got to block. We got to catch, we got to run. We got to do all the fundamental things that good football teams and good football players do.”
Luck understands his mission this week.
“I think we’re aware of how explosive the Broncos’ offense is. As an offense, we’re not preparing to play against them. We’re preparing to play against a very solid Denver Broncos defense with good players, with [outside linebacker] Von Miller coming off the edge, [cornerback] Champ [Bailey],” he explained before the start of Wednesday’s practice.
“From our perspective, our defense will worry about their offense. Our offense will worry about their defense. Special teams will worry about each other.”
The Colts’ quarterback also knows that after the loss to San Diego, Indianapolis needs to win to stay on track in the divisional race.
“I don’t think there’s any problem for anybody keeping focused. It’s a football game. We’re not ignorant. We know who’s coming to town,” Luck said. “We know it’s a great football team and a great challenge for us, a great opportunity for us. I don’t think there will be any problem keeping focus this week.”
I I I
n Twitter wars — It was a pretty contentious Wednesday on Twitter with comments being directed to and from Colts team owner Jim Irsay, ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen, former Indianapolis president/general manager Bill Polian along with friends and associates of Manning.
The barrage was in response to a recent interview with USA Today NFL columnist Jarrett Bell in which Irsay bemoaned the lack of more Super Bowl championships during Manning’s time with the team and how he wants to rebuild the current rendition of the franchise. Some observers saw the comments as knocks against the former Indianapolis quarterback as well as Polian.
During a teleconference with the Colts’ media Wednesday afternoon and during the Denver media availability later, Manning would not address Irsay’s comments. He also wouldn’t talk about what Broncos coach John Fox said during a Tuesday radio interview, in which he defended his quarterback.
“No, I don’t have anything to say about either one of those,” Manning said.
But his response to a question concerning his relationship with the Indianapolis owner and whether they have been in contact recently was somewhat telling.
“No, I can’t and I won’t,” he replied tersely.
Polian, one of the hosts of ESPN’s The Insiders NFL program, also took offense to his former owner’s comments.
“When [Irsay] talks about this model that he wants to build, which I’ve said 100 times is perfectly OK. He’s the owner; he can do what he wants. When he has to pay Andrew Luck as one of the top-paid quarterbacks, if not the top-paid quarterback in the league two years from now, he’ll be back in the same boat we were in all the years we had Peyton,” he said.
“So we did our best. If it wasn’t good enough, that’s fine. I don’t have any problem with it. But I will tell you this: I, and I’m sure I speak for all of my teammates and colleagues, we are very proud of what we did. Our record is there for all to see. It’s up to this new group of Colts to meet or exceed what we did.”
Pagano, during his pre-practice press conference and during his teleconference with the Broncos media, tried to calm the waters.
“All I know is that since I’ve been here, my conversations with Mr. Irsay regarding Peyton have been nothing of the sorts. I don’t think there is anybody that Mr. Irsay respects and cares for more than Peyton,” the Colts’ coach said.
“What can’t you say about Peyton? What he’s done for this organization, what he’s done for this city, our fans, what he’s done for football — it’s off the charts. And certainly all I know is that our owner has the utmost respect and love and passion for that guy and always will.”
So did Irsay himself during an impromptu meeting with the media.
“There was never a negative comment towards Peyton. coach Fox, I have great respect for him. I think he’s just a tremendous man of integrity and an outstanding coach. I don’t think that the comments, however they came back to people, I know they were misperceived,” he explained.
“When I talked about a Star Wars offense and that sort of thing, it was really based on just that aspect about just the imbalance we had defensively and on special teams. I look at the [New England] Patriots teams of [2003 and 2004] and I think they were the best teams in a long, long time because of that balance.”
A pregame ceremony honoring Manning and his many accomplishments with the Colts is planned for Sunday night.
n Injury list — Safety LaRon Landry returned to practice Wednesday after missing the previous four games with a high ankle sprain.
Landry went through a full workout. Cornerback Darius Butler (groin), safety Delano Howell (neck) and inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (hamstring) had limited work.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (concussion) and rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner (foot) did not practice. Freeman is still undergoing the NFL’s concussion protocols. His status for the Denver game has yet to be determined.