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Without wide receiver Harrison, Colts offense just isn't same

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Dungy's team policy is painted on a wall inside the Indianapolis locker room: No excuses, no explanations.

It applies to mistakes, assignments, even injuries to significant players.

But when perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison is missing from the lineup, things undoubtedly change for the traditionally high-scoring Colts.

"You can't say we're winning or we're losing because of one player," tight end Dallas Clark said Sunday. "But you don't replace a Hall of Fame receiver. You try to fill the hole as best you can. Marvin's a special guy, a special player."

Not to mention the longtime security blanket for two-time league MVP quarterback Peyton Manning.

While Indianapolis (7-1) has spent the last month adjusting to Harrison's lingering absence, courtesy of a bruised left knee, Manning has kept the offense chugging along by using other options.

Fellow receiver Reggie Wayne is on a career-high pace for receptions and yardage, and Clark is on pace to shatter John Mackey's single-season franchise record for receptions by a tight end (55). Clark's 34 catches are just three short of his previous career best.

The Colts also expected first-round draft pick Anthony Gonzalez to help fill the void, but now Gonzalez's status for Sunday's game at San Diego is in jeopardy because of a left thumb dislocated last week against New England.

If Gonzalez and Harrison can't play against the Chargers, the Colts would have only three healthy receivers on the active roster -- Wayne, Aaron Moorehead and Craphonso Thorpe, who was on the inactive list against New England.

As usual, Dungy isn't fretting.

"You can't let it affect you," Dungy said. "With eight minutes to go Sunday, that wasn't an issue when we were up 10. Everyone who played we needed."

Clearly, though, there have been adjustments.

Manning has completed fewer than 20 passes each of the past two weeks and has averaged less than 250 yards per game and thrown five touchdowns in the three games Harrison has missed.

One reason is the Colts have run more times (103-94) than they've passed, and the Patriots designed coverages to take away Manning's options. Safety Rodney Harrison, for instance, helped cover Clark rather than turning him over exclusively to the linebackers.

The result: Clark caught only two passes for 15 yards in the 24-20 loss, the earliest the Colts have lost their first game of the season in the last three years. Some attributed the outcome to not having Harrison, and after the game, Manning said the Colts needed to get healthy for their second-half run.

"You don't use it as an excuse, but any time one of your best football players isn't on the field -- and Marvin is one of those guys -- it's hard to replace them," Manning said Wednesday. "You've just got to do it, find a way to overcome it."

When will Harrison and the other injured Colts return? Dungy isn't saying, although Harrison did participate in limited work Wednesday.

Last week, after Harrison lobbied the coaches to play and Dungy said he had been cleared by team doctors, Harrison still wound up on the inactive list.

If he doesn't play again this week, Harrison will tie his career-high for most games missed in a season (four).

"Part of this is putting him through these testing runs that simulate games and then see how he responds," Dungy said. "When he's OK, that's when he'll be ready to go."

But Harrison is only part of the equation.

Over the past month, the Colts have had eight different starters miss at least one game and three miss at least two. They've also had three backups to the injured starters sit out at least one game.

And Dungy gave no indication Wednesday that was about to change.

Linebackers Tyjuan Hagler (neck) and Freddy Keiaho (ear) each sat out last week, along with left tackle Tony Ugoh (neck). Safety Matt Giordano, who backs up former Pro Bowler Bob Sanders, sat out Wednesday's practice after re-injuring his hamstring.

"All those guys are pretty much in the same boat right now," he said. "We have to plan on going without them."

The injury report also included a who's who of Colts starters. Among those missing practice were linebacker Gary Brackett (hip), defensive tackle Raheem Brock (neck), Clark (concussion), defensive end Dwight Freeney (team decision), Gonzalez, cornerback Marlin Jackson (foot), guard Ryan Lilja (team decision) and Ugoh.

Keiaho, Hagler and linebacker Rocky Boiman (shoulder) were all limited participants.

The Colts still have been a resilient bunch, winning three of their last four by at least 19 points.

Getting Harrison back, though, would almost certainly help.

"I know Marvin's working his butt off to get back and when that happens, things will look a little different," Clark said. "I know when he's in there, there is some concern (from defenses) about how to stop him."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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