If you were like me you had to pinch yourself this morning. It's all a dream, right? With three weeks remaining in the season the Colts have not only clinched a playoff spot, they've won the division, a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Oh yeah, they're also 13-0.
Does anyone else suddenly feel a little bit like a contestant on The Amazing Race, dropped into a foreign country with no idea where you are, where you are supposed to go, and what lies ahead? It doesn't seem like that long ago that at this point in the season I'd be making lists of the remaining games, figuring out what other teams had to lose on what weeks so that the Colts could possibly get a wildcard spot. After following the Colts since back in the days of Unitas, I'm feeling like a rookie, reminding myself to act like I've been here before.
Ah yes, as they say in that old holiday classic with Jimmy Stewart, "It's a wonderful life," isn't it?
Kudos to head coach Tony Dungy for immediately setting the media straight on his plans to play his starters -- at least this week against the Chargers -- immediately after the Jacksonville game to reduce some of the clamor over whether or not the Colts will continue to pursue a perfect season. That minimized distraction for his team even before they boarded their plane to fly back to Indy.
He framed his answer in a way that leads me to believe that the Colts will pursue that perfect season, simply because it fits the framework of what his team has done each week this season. Focus on the one game coming up, and find a way to improve on the previous performance.
Think about it. If you start sitting your players, how do you stay in that mindset you've created all season? What do they have to work on to improve if they are only playing for a quarter or so? The Colts have a rhythm to their winning ways. Dungy appears to realize that you don't throw off that routine when it's what helped achieve your goals, winning every single week in the process.
Throw off that rhythm, that process, and you might just throw things out of whack at a time when it's more important than ever.
So instead, Dungy banged a familiar drum after the Colts drubbed the Jaguars 28-16 in their house on Sunday.
"We're going to have to play better than we played today to get to our ultimate goal," Dungy said.
After watching the Jaguars make a game out of what was a laugher until the final 7 minutes, he's absolutely right. I don't think that statement was pure rhetoric.
"We want to get ourselves ready in the best possible way for the playoffs," he said. "That could involve 16-0 and hopefully, it does, but that's not the goal."
So the Colts will stay in their rhythm of how they approach their work week -- which includes letting the players stay in their routine, playing in this week's game against the Chargers. Some may call it "meaningless" since it won't impact the Colts' playoff positioning. Others will cry out, wondering why he will risk injury to key players in a meaningless game.
But in Tony Dungy's approach to this season, there are no meaningless games.
" I don't think it's time to shut things down," Dungy said. " We've still got a long way to go."
Some might point out that Dungy only specifically mentioned that the Colts starters would play this week against San Diego. So continued play of his starters isn't guaranteed against Seattle and Arizona.
And they would be right. Nothing's guaranteed.
But realize that Dungy has refused to look past a single game all year. So his reply fits the pattern of the season. And if he truly wants his team to get better each week, to continue to believe that's what they have to do to win a Super Bowl, he will keep his team in the exact same routine that he's done all season. All the way to the end.
Otherwise, he risks sending a message that implies that they've arrived -- before they've completed their journey.
"We've got a month before we play a playoff game," he stated. "We've still got to keep improving."
So with apologies to Motown's The Four Tops, "It's the Same Old Song" for Dungy and his undefeated Indianapolis Colts. And they're likely keep playing it all the way to the Big Dance in Detroit.