Archive for Sunday, November 18, 2007

Banged-up Colts look to snap skid against Chiefs

November 18, 2007

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— Kansas City coach Herman Edwards looks at the Indianapolis Colts and still sees Super Bowl champion players. He just doesn't see as many of them.

There's Peyton Manning calling plays, and Joseph Addai finding holes. Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne is shredding secondaries, and the Colts' vastly improved run defense is still playing well.

But in Indianapolis, where the injury report is beginning to look more like the team depth chart, all is not well. The Colts have lost two straight, their defensive leader is out for the season, and what once seemed like a certain first-round playoff bye has vanished.

Yes, they need to get better fast.

"We've still got a long season left and how we play now doesn't dictate how we'll play later," middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. "We've hit a little funk, and we've got to get out of it."

Indy's mild slump has been costly.

Two weeks ago, the hottest debate was whether New England (9-0) or Indianapolis (7-2) had a better team. Now, after blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Patriots and missing a potential winning 29-yard field goal in San Diego, there's little doubt.

It's nothing new for the Colts.

Two years ago, they started 13-0, then lost back-to-back games to San Diego and Seattle before falling to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Last year, they were 9-0, then lost three of four and four of six before rebounding to win the Super Bowl.

Now, they have to do it all over this time with an injury-depleted unit that has dramatically changed the Colts' look.

Perennial Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison has missed four of the last five games with a bruised left knee. Indy used use a makeshift line at San Diego after its top three offensive tackles - Tony Ugoh, Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson - were hurt. Then the Colts lost three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney for the season to a foot injury.

"There's no doubt about it, they're not the same when they're missing the weapons they're missing," said Edwards, one of Dungy's closest friends. "Tony expects those guys, whoever is going to play, is going to play. But it affects you, no doubt."

Playing the Chiefs (4-5) could be the perfect remedy.

Like the Colts, Kansas City has lost two straight, and like Indy, the Chiefs are in a transitional period despite trailing AFC West-leading San Diego by only one game.

Larry Johnson, who topped 1,700 yards rushing each of the last two years, will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. The rejuvenated Priest Holmes will replace Johnson.

Quarterback Damon Huard also is taking a seat, perhaps permanently.

Edwards decided this week to replace Huard with Brodie Croyle, who is being groomed as Chiefs quarterback of the future, even though Edwards wants to win now.

"We're still trying to compete and win games," Edwards said. "That's never an issue, never even a thought. I just think you have to let young players play, and we have."

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