That's the way the Colts have approached their preparation for every matchup this season. But the significance of Sunday's game hasn't been muddled in the mind of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
"Big game, obviously good for this region," he said this week. "Good football is being played in this area right now in the NFL, and hopefully we will have a lot of Colts' fans there. It ought to be a really good ballgame."
Manning arguably faces his toughest matchup of the season. While some could argue getting past New England was tougher mentally, statistically speaking, Manning will face the best secondary in the NFL on Sunday. The Bengals have 20 interceptions already this season. That's six better than the second-place Jaguars and Bears, and eight more than the Colts.
"They have forced offenses into making some bad plays, fumbles and tip balls. I don't believe that tipped balls happen by accident," he said. "Those guys are flying to the ball and hustling and ended up in the right spots."
As a result, expect Manning to focus on being patient -- and to be willing to
throw the ball away rather than take a chance on a turnover. The Bengals have
created 27 turnovers in their seven victories, 3.9 per game. In their two
losses, they've averaged just one turnover per game. There's little doubt that
the Colts' signal-caller and the rest of the offense are well aware of that
statistic this week.
"That's something we've always tried to stress, trying to protect the ball, trying to get turnovers, trying to have few penalties and playing well in the special teams area," Manning explained. "That's what you have to have, especially when you're playing good teams.
The formula for the Colts' success this season is constant analysis from week
to week of how they can improve their game across all of their units -- and
individually. Achieve that, and the odds of winning increase no matter who your
opponent is on Sunday.
"That's what we talk about during the week, just try to get better. Get better and you hope the wins will follow that," he said. "We've had good weeks of practice and carried that over to the field on Sunday. You can't just show up and expect to play well. You have to prepare hard and practice hard. I think we have gotten better during each week of practice."
Manning has plenty of offensive weapons, but perhaps none more capable of driving the knife through the heart of a defense quicker than wide receiver Marvin Harrison. He has eight touchdown catches out of 53 catches -- 15 percent of his receptions this year. That touchdown total is three more than the Bengals' Chad Johnson, who also has 53 catches.
Johnson holds a decided advantage in receiving yards over Harrison (808 yards versus 624), and Manning has a great appreciation for him despite some people's criticism of his outspoken persona.
"I think Chad's got a great personality, great charisma, just an outstanding
player," he said. "He's one of those guys that can do anything. I just have a real appreciation for what kind of athlete he is. I think he's got great charisma and a high energy guy and that makes him a big time receiver."
And what does Manning's think of Johnson's quarterback, Carson Palmer?
"I'm really impressed with the way he is playing this year," he said. "I haven't studied their offense, but keeping up with him, reading about him and seeing him on highlights, for a guy who can complete 70% of his passes in his 3rd year it's a real credit to him."
Someone should alert the folks who put together the highlight reel for this
game to be prepared to put in some overtime this weekend. Manning and his Colts
and Palmer and his Bengals should provide plenty of material for them to choose
from by the time this game is over.