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Monday, October 27, 2003
Colts not thinking playoffs


INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts could look at their AFC South-leading 6-1 record and start thinking playoffs. The veterans know better.

"I can recall a couple years ago when we were 6-2 and all of a sudden we were sitting at .500," offensive tackle Adam Meadows said Monday. "So we've got to play good football and keep getting better."

While the Colts are 6-1 for the first time since 1977, a first-half stretch Indianapolis fans have not enjoyed since the team moved from Baltimore, there are problems.

Coach Tony Dungy emphasized run defense for two weeks, then watched Houston pile up 131 yards rushing and 4.7 yards per carry -- the exact averages the Colts allowed in their first six games.

They also drew another critical personal foul call, turned the ball over and even trailed 14-3 in the first half.

"We don't want to get complacent," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We've worked hard to get to this point, and we're not going to forget what got us here."< ^Ravens=

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There's a revival happening in Baltimore, where a new cast of characters and several experienced stars have turned back the clock to the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl season.

"Those analogies keep getting pulled up, and that's to be understood," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday. "But this is a different team; this is a young team. That's what's exciting."

Using a solid running game and an unyielding defense, Baltimore (4-3) has moved into position to win its first division title since arriving from Cleveland in 1996. The Ravens (4-3) lead Cincinnati by one game and hold a 1{-game edge over the Browns.

Eager to rebound from a disheartening loss to the Bengals, Baltimore employed its standard method for success Sunday in a 26-6 rout of Denver. Jamal Lewis ran for 134 yards and a touchdown, and Ray Lewis spearheaded a suffocating defense that limited the Broncos to a mere 194 yards.

It's enough to conjure memories of 2000, when Jamal Lewis carried the offense and Ray Lewis stood tall on a defense that set an NFL record by allowing only 165 points over a 16-game schedule.

Billick wouldn't dare call his current team as good as the one that beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. But he sees the potential for greatness.

"That Super Bowl year, once we got going in November, we were who we were and that's as good as we were going to be," he said. "This team still has a lot of upside because of its youth. Yeah, there are similarities in the two teams. But the personality and the youth of this team makes it dramatically different."< ^Buccaneers=

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ronde Barber says it's time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start playing like one of the NFL's elite teams.

The Bucs (4-3) climbed over .500 with Sunday's 16-0 shutout of the Dallas Cowboys, but the club's lack of consistency doesn't sit well with Barber.

"We have a sense of urgency when we need to, and that's probably not a good thing," the cornerback said. "We are great one week and mediocre the next week. That's a pretty average team, if you ask me. I don't think we are an average football team."

The Super Bowl champions sure didn't play like one in limiting Dallas to a season-low 178 yards and ending the Cowboys' five-game winning streak.

"We have to do something," Barber said. "We can't be a .500 football team, winning and losing every other week. That's pretty insane. It's hard for me to believe that we did that for seven weeks."< ^Bears=

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' first-year players are finding meaningful duty -- scoring touchdowns and trying to help the struggling team win.

"Any time the young guys make plays, it gives you a sense they're coming around," said Bears receiver Marty Booker, one of six starters who missed Sunday's 24-17 win over Detroit.

Rookie receivers Justin Gage and Bobby Wade filled in for Booker. Gage had his first career TD reception and set up a field goal with another catch, while Wade made three catches. Both are fifth-round draft picks.

Rookie running back Brock Forsey, forced into duty because of injuries to both Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson, also scored his first NFL touchdown. Rookie Charles Tillman set up a score with an interception caused when rookie Michael Haynes hit Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington as he was throwing.

"It's great to get experience for all those young players when you can win doing it, because it will help you some time," Bears coach Dick Jauron said Monday.< ^Cowboys=

DALLAS -- Bill Parcells wasn't his usual chatty self after the Dallas offense collapsed in a 16-0 loss to Tampa Bay,

"That was a chance to really get ourselves established," Parcells said, "and we weren't able to do it."

A road victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions would've been quite a milestone for the Cowboys (5-2). It also would've stretched their winning streak to six games and given them more wins than each of the last three seasons with more than half the schedule left to play.

Quincy Carter threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. The line also did a poor job opening holes for running backs as Dallas ran for just 60 yards. The Cowboys failed to convert five snaps of third- and fourth-and-1.

"This was a combination of everything we could possibly do wrong," Parcells said.< ^Falcons=

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Changes are being made to the Atlanta Falcons' defense.

In a slightly surprising move, Juran Bolden replaces Ray Buchanan at left cornerback. Buchanan had indicated he might work at free safety, but that position now belongs to Cory Hall. Rookie Bryan Scott will start at strong safety, and Tod McBride at right cornerback.

Atlanta (1-6) has a six-game losing streak and hosts Philadelphia (4-3) on Sunday.

The Falcons are on pace to allow 6,667 yards, the second-worst single-season total in NFL history.

"The status quo wasn't getting us anywhere," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We've got to move some people around to see what we can do."< ^Broncos=

DENVER -- Battered and sputtering, the Broncos (5-3) could use a break to regroup and heal. Problem is, Denver still has to play the New England Patriots before getting to its bye week.

"We're very disappointed right now, the way we've play the past couple of weeks," tight end Shannon Sharpe said Monday. "For us to be the team we talked about at the beginning of the season, we need to get it turned around this week."

Denver opened the season with four straight wins and a balanced offense that kept opponents guessing. A slew of injuries and a suddenly stalled offense has led to three losses in the past four games, and the Broncos are down to third-string quarterback Danny Kanell.

"We just seemed to step down for some reason," linebacker Al Wilson said. "We just haven't been playing our game the last couple of weeks. We know we're a much better team than we've shown the past couple of weeks and hopefully we can bounce back from it."< ^Steelers=

PITTSBURGH -- Of all the descriptive phrases used over the years about the team, rarely has this one been appropriate so deep into a season: the last-place Pittsburgh Steelers.

With their season's midpoint arriving Sunday in Seattle, the Steelers (2-5) are bringing up the rear in the not-so-good AFC North behind the Ravens (4-3), Bengals (3-4) and Browns (3-5). That's uncharted territory for a team that hasn't finished last in its division since going 5-11 in 1988.

Coincidentally, that's the last time the Steelers had so poor a record -- then, it was 1-6 after seven games.

"I've said in the past this team stays together very well through adversity, and this is probably a test like no other test for adversity," quarterback Tommy Maddox said Monday.