The way Tony Dungy sees it, there's no good time to lose.
Peyton Manning views it basically the same.
So, although the Colts won 26 regular-season games, two AFC South titles and a Super Bowl during the last two seasons, there’s one record over that span that neither Dungy – entering his sixth season as the Colts’ Head Coach – nor his quarterback like much.
The preseason record: 1-8.
As in, one victory in the team’s last nine preseason games – 0-5 in the 2005 preseason and 1-3 last preseason.
Yes, the games mean nothing come January. And yes, they’re also all but forgotten come September. But in August, they do matter somewhat, Dungy and Manning each said.
And losing isn’t something either wants to experience.
“Believe me, I don’t like it,” Manning said this week as the Colts prepared to play the Dallas Cowboys in the 2007 preseason opener at Texas Stadium in Dallas, Texas, Thursday at 8 p.m.
Dungy and Manning each said this week while winning in the preseason can’t come at the expense of improving for the regular season, improving the preseason record isn’t unimportant.
“We want to win every game, believe it or not,” Dungy said as the Colts approached their first game of any kind since beating the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI this past February.
“We have things we’re trying to accomplish. It is disappointing, when you try play well and don’t win, but part of it is getting ready for the season. If we’re playing well and we’re accomplishing things, we go into every game with something we want to get done offensively, defensively and special teams. I’m one that doesn’t believe you ever learn anything by losing, so it’s not something we enjoy, not playing our best.
“There are a lot of other things we want to accomplish as well.”
Twelve players have been ruled out for Thursday, Dungy said Wednesday morning. They are:
Defensive end Noland Burchette (groin), defensive back Brannon Condren (groin), defensive end Ben Ishola (ankle), offensive tackle Charlie Johnson (hip), defensive tackle Tom Johnson (calf), running back Kenton Keith (ankle), defensive end Robert Mathis (knee), defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland (knee), linebacker Keith O’Neil (Physically Unable to Perform, abdomen/hip), safety Bob Sanders (PUP, shoulder), defensive end Bo Schobel (chest) and linebacker Clint Session (hamstring).
Also, linebacker Rocky Boiman (ankle) is questionable for the Dallas game.
Since Dungy’s 2002 arrival, the Colts have made five consecutive playoff appearances, won four consecutive AFC South titles, and have the NFL’s best regular-season record.
A year ago, they won the Super Bowl.
In the preseason during the same span, they have a record of 8-13.
“Our preseason record has not been very good,” Manning said. “You’d like to look better all the way around, but obviously, coaches are looking for certain things that they don’t even tell the players. They’re looking for one little thing out of this guy and certain things out of another guy.”
The game against the Cowboys will be televised nationally on FOX. No matter the time of year, Manning said a nationally-televised game is one in which players want to play well.
“Ultimately, they don’t keep up with preseason records, but this game’s on TV and you do like to go down there and play well and put on a good performance,” Manning said. “It makes you feel better about yourself, but ultimately, it’s about doing whatever you have to do to get ready for the regular season.”
For the Colts, getting ready against the Cowboys likely will mean Manning and many other offensive starters playing in a limited role, likely leaving shortly after the first quarter. Dungy said he estimates most starters and front-line players playing about “10-to-15 plays.”
“Pretty much the same every year,” Dungy said. “Those guys will get a couple of series offensively and defensively. We have some guys who are second-team guys who we want to see against good players, so we’ll ease some of those guys into it.
“Then, we’ll have more of a mass substitution at the tail end of the first quarter.”
To Manning and many veterans, the preseason opener is the latest in a series of steps toward regular-season mode. First, Manning said, came mini-camp, then training camp, then the Blue-and-White intra-squad scrimmage last Saturday.
“Now, you’ve got the game,” Manning said. “You’re seeing live action. Once again, it goes along the same lines of getting as comfortable as you possibly can. It always takes a little work to get used to that again, even if you’ve played a number of years.
“I think it will be a good test, going back to Dallas.”
Younger players, such as offensive tackle Tony Ugoh – who has been working with the first-team offensive line at left tackle – and rookie slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez likely will play more extensively, Dungy said.
“Those guys will play a lot and play in different situations,” Dungy said. “It won’t be limited to five series here or five series there. We’ll try to work them in some. We have some guys on defense the same way, who we’d like to see with the first group.”
The Colts spent their practices this week at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., focused mainly upon fundamentals, rather than the Cowboys. One reason, Dungy said, is with Wade Phillips in his first season as the Cowboys’ head coach, no game tape exists of Dallas’ current approach.
Phillips, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator and the former head coach of the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills, typically has run a 3-4 defensive scheme. Historically, his defenses often have been among the NFL’s best.
“We’ll see some different defensive looks,” Manning said. “You have no idea what they’re going to do, exactly. There’s no previous film. They’ll probably play a 3-4 defense and give you some different nickel and dime combinations. Depending on how much we play, we’ll try to get some work.
“It should be a real good test for our young guys.”
And even though the games will mean little in a month, it’s far from an unimportant moment now – or an unexciting one, Dungy said.
“I’m excited when we play and you’re excited to see different things,” Dungy said. “You’re excited to see how some players are going to fit in the role you have them that day. You’re excited to see how you’re team is going to perform against someone else. There are things you’re looking for that make a game a lot more fun than a regular practice day.”
Story Courtesy: The Indianapolis Colts