Colts back on top of AFC South, won't change their focus

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Caldwell usually lets the Colts' veterans speak their minds.

This week, the reserved second-year coach has a different message for his players: don't become complacent.

One day after beating Houston and moving into sole possession of the AFC South lead for the first time this season, Caldwell wants to reinforce the point that now is not the time for the Colts to change their focus.

"We're not concerned about standings. We're not concerned about anything else," Caldwell said Tuesday. "We're concerned about getting better and getting ourselves in the best position to play well on Sunday."

It's an old message with a new twist, given Indy's circumstances.

The Colts (5-2) have been the most dominant team in the AFC South since the division's inception in 2002. They won six of the first eight division crowns and have been in first place for all but 28 weeks over the past 8½ seasons.

But the Colts have never really been in full chase mode until this season.

A steady rash of injuries and two early losses gave Indy its first 0-2 start in AFC South play, rekindled talk of the Super Bowl losers hex and threatened to end the Colts' record-setting run of seven straight 12-win seasons.

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Now, suddenly, all seems to be resolved.

The Colts have won three consecutive games, all against teams with at least four wins, and Monday night's 30-17 victory over Houston eliminated one potential division tiebreaker by evening the season series with Houston.

A win at Philadelphia this weekend would put the Colts back on pace for another 12-win season at the halfway mark, and they have a favorable second-half schedule that includes five home games and only three game against teams with winning records.

It's also likely the Colts will get better when some of their injured players return.

They were missing All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Austin Collie, running back Joseph Addai and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey on Monday night. Addai's backup, Donald Brown, was limited to nine carries for 16 yards, and third-string running back Mike Hart left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury after running for a career-high 84 yards. Hart was expected to have an MRI exam on his ankle Tuesday, although Caldwell did not provide an injury update.

Everyone else, except Clark and Collie, could return as soon as this week. Clark is out for the season after undergoing wrist surgery, and Collie is expected to miss a few games after having surgery on his right thumb.

Indy also could get safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, back next month.

So until the regulars return, the replacements will get more time working with Peyton Manning, and the four-time league MVP expects those guys to get even better.

"You try to be patient, you try to work with guys," Manning said. "I think, hopefully, we can improve with some of these new guys."

Caldwell's concern is more mental.

With the possibility of facing teams in dire need of victories over the next month -- such as Cincinnati, San Diego and Dallas -- Caldwell knows there is no time for a break if the Colts want to stay in the division lead.

The veterans know it, the coaches know it and the younger players will learn it from the veterans.

But Caldwell wants to spend this week reiterating the point.

"You don't ever take anything for granted, so you always have to, certainly, talk about it," he said. "We do have a group that I think has always been extremely focused, but we're still going to talk about it anyway. The fact of the matter is it's what we do."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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