As the NFL’s lone unbeaten team, the Indianapolis Colts will have even more of a spotlight on how they approach their final two games of the regular season. They recognize that, but their mantra won’t change: winning the Super Bowl is the goal.
The Colts returned to practice Monday after a long weekend of rest and relaxation. Their 35-31 victory over Jacksonville on Thursday night earned them that reward, and when New Orleans lost to Dallas on Saturday night, the Colts became the NFL’s only spotless team.
How much does that mean to them?
"Obviously, it’s an honor for our team to have an opportunity to stand alone at this point," coach Jim Caldwell said Monday, "but the fact of the matter is that it is a real task to maintain this position, as well. I think our guys are certainly up to that challenge."
And they want to meet that challenge.
"Obviously, we’ve been here before. It helps in dealing with the media and helps us in how we should feel," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "Everything is measured by the end of the season. But we welcome (the spotlight). We’re not under the radar anymore.
"I think we’ve got a pretty good team. What we’ve done is nothing to take lightly. We’re definitely proud of where we’re at right now. And it’s a good problem to have, deciding whether you’re going to play or whether you’re going to sit."
So, will they get the chance to prove it? Or will the Colts back off in their final two games, against the Jets at home on Sunday, and then at Buffalo?
Judging by how they performed at Jacksonville, and how Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne have been vocal about wanting to be on the field, it would seem matching the Patriots’ 16-0 mark of 2007 is a priority. Just not the main priority.
"Right now I could not tell you exactly what it’s going to be, whether or not a guy plays one series or the entire game," Caldwell said. "The other thing is the health also includes, obviously, looking at them from a standpoint at what they’re going to be able to do in the future as well. That’s also included."
Only two other franchises have reached 14-0 in the regular season: the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went on to 17-0 and won the Super Bowl, and the ’07 Patriots, who were 16-0, won two playoff games, then fell in the Super Bowl to the Giants.
"Everyone has a different opinion (about who plays how much in the final two games)," Brackett added. "I would love to be in there. But I would also love to have another ring. So what happens in that regard, I just want to be ready for the playoffs, to be as healthy as possible, playing as well as possible and get ready to make a run at that title."
There are other considerations for the Colts as they pursue 16-0 — or don’t chase it.
Manning is a leading contender for league MVP, an award he has won three times, including last season. Nobody has won it four times.
Caldwell already has the best record for a rookie coach after taking over from the retired Tony Dungy, and an unbeaten season almost certainly would mean being voted top coach. Bill Belichick in 2007 and Don Shula in 1972 won it.
Wide receiver Austin Collie is in the mix for offensive rookie honors, too.
You won’t hear about any of that from Colts camp, though. You will hear about the Jets (7-7), against whom Manning is only 7-4.
"We’re going to prepare the same way we’ve been preparing all along," Caldwell said. "I think that’s a very, very important part of what we do. I think that’s why our guys have been able to stay sharp and function and stay focused. We keep our edge, I think, and that’s not going to change."
The Jets still have wild-card playoff possibilities, but must sweep their last two games, against the Colts and Bengals.
"We don’t need to worry about anything but beating the Indianapolis Colts," Jets receiver Braylon Edwards said. "They’re a great team. They are the best team in football. It’s going to be a tough matchup any way you look at it."