Dungy: It's An Exciting Time

Colts head coach Tony Dungy talked to the media Monday about getting ready to take on the San Diego Chargers this week in the wild-card round of the playoffs. See what Dungy had to say about the way the Chargers have improved this season, the Colts own turnaround, injury updates, the coaches that lost their jobs today around the NFL, and more!

"It's always nice to be here on the Monday after the regular season talking about the playoffs. It's an exciting time for us. We are happy to be in and looking forward to the challenge of going to San Diego. They're playing extremely hot right now. We've been watching a lot of tape this morning, and they've played well down the stretch. Very much like us, where it's kind of must-win all the way through, they had games they had to win. They went to the East coast and won in Tampa, won last night (vs. Denver). They're playing very well, explosive and playing well on defense, so it'll be a test. Most of the games we've had against them have been close, where a play here or there in the fourth quarter has determined it, so we're going to do our best to get ready. Going out there on Saturday takes a day of preparation away, but our guys were prepared for it. We talked about it after the game that there would be a good chance we would have to play on Saturday. So, we'll practice (Tuesday) and have a normal week's work."

On if there is motivation in playing the team that knocked you out of the playoffs last year:

"I don't think it's motivation. I think it's understanding how tough it's going to be. We've played these guys a lot. It almost seems like division games again. They're battle tested. They've been in the hunt and in the playoffs now several years, so a lot of familiar faces. I think we'll understand the challenge in front of us. We'll know them very well. They know us very well so it should make for a good game, but nothing extra. This year is win to keep playing."

On the difference in San Diego now from the first meeting on Nov. 23:

"They're probably getting a few more takeaways. They're just as explosive. They were very explosive on offense when we played them before. Maybe a little bit more in tune with (Defensive Coordinator) Ron Rivera's system defensively, but they're playing well. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now."

On if it is less daunting to get to the Super Bowl as a wild card after two of the last three champions have done it:

"I don't know that it's less daunting, but I think it just speaks to the parity in the league and how close it is. We're grumbling or however you want to look at it that we're a pass interference call away from that game (Sunday vs. Tennessee) meaning an awful lot. We would've had a chance to play for the number one seed. We didn't win that game against Jacksonville (on Sept. 21) so we end up the five seed. I just think that's what you have, a lot more closer, tougher races and the five and six teams not being that much different than the one and two teams. I think that's what we've seen, and the healthy teams, the hot teams going in, have a chance to win it. San Diego, I think, is just as dangerous as anybody in this tournament right now. They're seeded four, but they're certainly playing well."

On what kept the Colts striving to get better after starting the season 3-4:

"Probably the fact that our guys, especially our veterans, knew what we had. We were disappointed that we weren't playing sharp, consistent football. We had beaten ourselves in a couple of games. We felt like if we could just eliminate our errors we'd have a chance to win. I had a bunch of guys on the coaching staff that had been with me in Tampa, and we'd been in that situation a lot so we knew that it's doable to get yourself going and come back from that. But, I think you'd have to credit our veteran players who just continued to practice and work and not worry about anything other than the next game."

On players being used to starting well:

"We had some of those, especially those third-year guys that were used to coming in and getting off to those hot starts, but you have to battle most of the time in the NFL. Our battle came early in the year, but we stayed pretty focused and we got in that stretch where we really couldn't afford a loss and it did help us concentrate."

On if anything specific turned the season around:

"There may have been something in the locker room, but not really. I think it was more of everybody just saying, ‘I have to do my job. The coaches, we have to do our job a little bit better preparing players. They have to concentrate a little bit more in practice, use our techniques a little better.' We cut down on some of the things we did and really got back to just fundamental football and just tried to play and not beat ourselves."

On if this was his toughest run to the playoffs:

"We dug ourselves a hole, so it feels that way when you're at week eight and every game feels like a must-win game. You don't feel like we can lose one and be OK, so I think that grind of having to win seven or eight in a row to stay in the race maybe made it feel that way, but every year is tough. Maybe I'll look back with hindsight and think it's a little tougher. What we've had the last couple of years where you have four games left and you're in the playoffs, that's always a little more relaxing, but it's been rewarding, I'll say that."

On the Colts' kick coverage:

"It was disappointing the last two weeks. I know our guys felt we would cover much better. Tennessee has a good unit. Jacksonville has a pretty good unit. We did a good job on (Jacksonville CB-Brian) Witherspoon the first time we played them, not as good last time. (Sunday vs. Tennessee) was disappointing. We got good kicks from (K) Adam (Vinatieri) and didn't pen them in as much as we needed to, so we'll just have to work on it. But, just fundamentals, reading the blocks, getting off in the right direction. We had some different guys playing, and we had a lot of guys (vs. Tennessee) who don't normally play from scrimmage that were looking for oxygen. (WR) Roy Hall normally is one of our leaders running downfield on kicks, and he had a lot of deep routes and blocked and played 40 or 45 plays on offense. So, that was a part of it, too. Your coverage unit is when you have to run. We got a downed punt and a fair catch, which helps you in the punting game, but the kickoffs you have to cover. We had some long drives offensively, and then had a couple of offensive players that had to go back out there and cover. But, we just have to be better. We have to get back to what we had done previously."

On San Diego RB-Darren Sproles:

"He is a big, big factor for them on the return game and from scrimmage."

On how well the defense is playing:

"We're making more big plays, that's for sure. We haven't, maybe, been as consistent as I would like to see us in the last four or five games, but I think we're understanding what it takes. We're going to be healthier, probably, than most years going into the playoffs and we've done some good things. We've kept the points down by not giving up the big plays, and (San Diego) is a team that that's going to be paramount. They thrive on big plays, they have a lot of guys that can make them, so we're going to have to play consistent ball and be on our details and try to make them go the long road."

On having the DL healthy this year in the playoffs:

"It helps. You want to have that. (San Diego) came in (to last year's playoff game) the same way. (TE-Antonio) Gates was hurt and (RB-LaDainian) Tomlinson was hurt. (QB-Philip) Rivers got hurt during the game. You have to find a way to make those plays and win, but I think we have found a lot more depth this year. That's one thing I do feel good about, more guys making plays for us. It was great to see our young rushers get a chance to rush the passer a little bit (Sunday). We've had defensive backs making plays that don't start the game, so we're probably better depth wise than we were last year, but you always want your big-time guys ready to go at this time of the year."

On if everybody will practice this week:

"I don't think (LB) Gary (Brackett) will, but other than that, we had a couple of guys get nicked up in the game. (WR) Anthony Gonzalez should be OK. (C) Jamey Richard and (OG) Mike Pollak both got rolled up, and we'll have to see how they are, but other than that we should have everybody going."

On if he has to remind the team not to look at the potential of having to win three road games to make it to the Super Bowl:

"No, not really. You know it's going to be tough, you know you have to go on the road, but you just have to take it one practice and one game and you have to win one game that week to stay alive and then you find out where you go the next week. From that standpoint, it's not a whole lot different. You have to be mentally ready to know that you probably won't be at home, but that's probably the only difference."

On if the team is already in a one-game-at-a-time mode because of its start:

"It really has been that way since week eight, and the guys have done a good job of it. A lot of the games have developed differently, and we've found ways to win them. We've won in tough venues. It's going to be tougher in the playoffs. It's always harder to go back, so we have to understand that. The second time around will be tougher, but I like the way it's developed."

On San Diego WR-Vincent Jackson's deep catch in the first meeting this season:

"They had a good play dialed up for that defense. They were looking for that defense and threw him a deep ball. He's a big guy and he has speed and he got down the middle and got up over the top of us. That's something we're going to take a look at, but that's what San Diego thrives on. They move different people around to different formations, they have a lot of people that you have to look for and they have guys who can make big plays. That has to be paramount for us, taking those deep balls away from them, because that's how they score in spurts."

On Jackson:

"He's made that next jump. He's playing great for them. They have a great cast of receivers. (Chris) Chambers is a really, really good player, obviously. (Antonio) Gates, Malcolm Floyd is a guy who gets in and catches deep balls. They're all big, fast guys who can run and catch."

On if Gates and TE-Dallas Clark bring similar dynamics to an offense:

"It's similar because it's such a tough matchup and they can put him at different places. They use him outside as a wide receiver, he's inside against linebackers, against safeties, they throw deep balls to him. They do a lot of things with him, and he's a really gifted guy. We happened to be walking out of the tunnel together after the game (on Nov. 23) and I said, ‘I just have a feeling we're going to see you guys again.' They thought so, too. They felt like they could win and keep the pressure on Denver. We'll have our hands full with him, but he's a really gifted player. Very similar to Dallas in the fact that they can play a lot of different spots and, depending on what matchups they get, run different kinds of routes."

On if it matters if the running game does not improve during the playoffs:

"I guess it probably doesn't matter because we've won nine in a row the way it is. But, especially if you get in bad weather situations, you're going to have to run more and we have to be able to run effectively when we need to. We'll work on that and continue to work on that. It hasn't been up to our standards, and we'll continue to work, but I think we'll have both of our backs healthy. If Mike Pollak's OK, we'll have our starting line healthy, and that will certainly help us. The thing we have to do is be able to run when it counts. We've missed a bunch of 3rd-and-1s in the last five or six games. We've given the ball back to people when one 3rd-and-1 conversion would ice the game. You don't want to do that in the playoffs. You're playing good quarterbacks, and you don't want to put it in their hands. In the situation like Jacksonville (on Dec. 18), where if we make our 3rd-and-1, basically the game's over. We don't, they get a chance to drive and we get a sack from the (seven)-yard line to stop them. That's where we have to be a little bit better, but I think we will."

On why the running game has struggled this season:

"It's been a little bit of everything. It's been offensive linemen in differently, different backs in, our backs being a little bit nicked up and not getting that rhythm with the linemen. It's been just assignments, penalties here or there, heard this wrong, didn't block this right, very much what I said about the run defense in '06. When it comes together and we do it right, I think we're very capable of having some big run days."

On RB-Joseph Addai:

"I think he's going to be fine. It was probably good to get him a little activity at game speed. I know he's looking forward to it, but I think he's in good shape and ready to go."

On San Diego RB-LaDainian Tomlinson:

"He looked very good (Sunday vs. Denver). I watched the game, and he looked like he was spurting and cutting, but he did the same thing in our game. He made people miss and made safeties miss in the open field. He's a great back."

On if the fact that the teams have faced each other a lot recently matters for this game:

"I think with the Saturday game, it's probably going to make for a better game, the fact that we know each other so well. You have one less day to prepare, but I don't think that will make a difference because these teams know each other so well. So, I think you have a chance to see a well-executed game that should be a good one. It seems like we've had this four- or five-year run where you've had New England and San Diego, some teams we've played a lot, Tennessee now and Pittsburgh, it just seems like you've had some of these same teams that know each other and are playing good football."

On the NFL coaching changes:

"It's always a bittersweet day, it really is. There are 32 of these jobs. You get to know these guys really well, and you know how hard they work, how much they put into it and things don't work out for whatever reason. It gives some other guys a chance, and we have some staff people here that I hope get a chance and guys who have worked with us in the past. That part of it, hopefully some guys will benefit for it, but it's tough to see. I always believe continuity helps and helps you win. You're a lot closer than a lot of people think sometimes, so it's a tough day. I obviously know (former Detroit Head Coach) Rod (Marinelli) a lot better than I know (former Cleveland Head Coach) Romeo (Crennel) and (former NY Jets Head Coach) Eric (Mangini), but all three are very good men and have done some good things coaching. It's always bittersweet. You're excited about going into the playoffs and disappointed for the guys who don't keep their job."


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