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Archive for Sunday, January 15, 2006

Colts, Steelers understand importance of home field

January 15, 2006

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— Tony Dungy spent a quarter-century chasing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs before he finally earned it.

He doesn't intend to let that reward slip away today against his old team, Pittsburgh, in the divisional playoffs.

"It's our opportunity to do something special and cap off a year that's been really good for us," Dungy said. "That's what it's all about."

Conventional wisdom suggests the RCA Dome is the Colts' ticket to Detroit.

In past years, Indianapolis (14-2) has contended with snow, wind, rain and cold weather in January. It was shut out at New York in 2003, then lost at New England each of the past two years in inclement weather.

Critics contended after those losses that the only way the high-scoring Colts would reach the Super Bowl was to stay indoors.

Mission accomplished - even the Super Bowl is in a dome this year.

"I've never said that we have to be indoors, but that has been said by people," two-time MVP Peyton Manning said. "I agree totally with coach Dungy, that it doesn't matter where you play, you've got to be ready to play."

Playing at home does provide advantages, especially when it comes to crowd noise inside a dome.

The Steelers (12-5) struggled to hear snap counts in November during their first trip to Indy. They were called for false starts several times, and got out of sync early. Pittsburgh lost that one, 26-7, and afterward complained the Colts were piping in artificial noise over the speakers to make it tougher.

Irritated fans are likely to raise the decibel level even more today, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Pittsburgh needed to execute better this time.

"We're going to have to be on our 'A' game and do the best we can to communicate with each other," he said.

As the Steelers know all too well, though, there are no guarantees in the playoffs.

Last week, three of the four road teams - including Pittsburgh - won wild-card games. Last year, Pittsburgh lost the AFC championship game at home, and during Bill Cowher's tenure the Steelers are 1-4 in AFC title games at home.

So what's the advantage? Earning a bye.

"I don't remember losing too many games coming off the bye," Cowher said, when asked if the Colts might be rusty after a one-week break. "Of course, we've lost that next game a few times."

The bye gave some Colts a chance to get healthy.

After resting about half of his defensive starters during the final two regular-season games, Dungy said all of the Colts' key defensive players - Corey Simon, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Cato June and Bob Sanders - should be ready today.

The Colts also will have starting right tackle Ryan Diem back - Diem has been out since spraining a knee ligament in a Dec. 18 loss to San Diego. Manning said his arm appreciated the break, too.

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