Dungy concedes Colts, Manning must find way to break early-season slump

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning still struggles for an apt
description for Indianapolis' uncharacteristic season.

Tony Dungy has a simpler explanation.

On Wednesday, the Colts coach trashed his typically disciplined
answers by declaring his team, including the two-time league MVP,
in a full-fledged slump.

"Peyton has generally been seven-plus yards per pass attempt
and a high number of touchdown passes," Dungy said. "Usually, we
score 28 to 30 points. We've generally scored more touchdowns than
we've had punts. We haven't done that, so you either have to say
skills are deteriorating or we're in a slump, and I think
offensively we are."

That's not a line the Colts (3-4) are accustomed to hearing
before their annual November showdown with New England - and
certainly not from their coach.

But after opening the last three seasons with at least seven
straight wins, the Colts' playoff hopes are teetering. They've lost
two straight, fallen four games behind the division-leading Titans
and are mired in a logjam of seven AFC teams that are either 4-3 or
3-4, with the toughest part of the schedule still ahead.

The problems have raised a myriad of questions, but most focus
on the struggles of Indy's franchise quarterback.

Manning, a model of consistency over his first decade in the
league, is off to his worst start since his rookie season. He's
completed just 61.1 percent of his passes, has thrown nearly as
many interceptions (nine) as touchdowns (10) and his quarterback
rating of 79.0 is dramatically lower than his previous career
average of 94.7.

A year ago, the perennial Pro Bowler completed 65.4 percent of
his passes, threw 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and had a
rating of 98.

While the standards, of course, are higher for the Mannings,
things just haven't looked right.

Monday night's loss at Tennessee was the latest example. Instead
of the crisp, precise passes Manning is known for, his throws
repeatedly wobbled, sailed high and fell short, leading some to
surmise Manning was still not 100 percent after having two
surgeries on his left knee in July.

Manning denied he was hurting Wednesday and downplayed any
perceived link between Indy's poor start and the infected bursa sac
he had removed. Or any other injury.

"No, that's not the case, although you guys know that if I was
[hurt], I probably wouldn't tell you," he said, drawing laughter.
"But that's not the case. It's certainly not an excuse. It's
something I'd never use as an excuse. We just need to play

The Patriots (5-2) don't see much difference in these Colts or
those they've played in the past.

"They're an explosive football team, they can put up points,"
defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "You can never relax
against this football team because any time you have Manning and
those receivers, they're dangerous."

Clearly, though, something has changed.

The ground game, which has improved over the past few weeks,
still ranks 32nd with an average of 73.4 yards per game. The
offensive line, which has gotten most of its injured players back
in the past three weeks, has yielded nine sacks and allowed Manning
to be pressured far more than that.

Manning and his receivers haven't been themselves, either. There
have been dropped balls, miscommunications and errant throws,
prompting the usually unflappable Manning to suggest Monday night
that the Colts need to play with some anger.

"I don't think anybody's happy, everybody's mad about not
winning the game the other night," Manning said Wednesday. "But
everybody realizes why it happened. The Titans made more plays than
we did in the second half. There are plenty of teams that are angry
out there, but that doesn't mean you're going to go out and win the
next week."

To win, these Colts must revert to their traditional form -
making big plays, avoiding penalties and stringing together a full
60-minute game.

Indy has played that way in spurts this season. There was the
improbable comeback at Minnesota, the record-setting rally at
Houston and the blowout against Baltimore.

But the Colts haven't done it consistently, which leads Dungy
back to his original conclusion.

"I'd say you'd have to say it's a slump based on his numbers
and his productivity," Dungy said when asked specifically about
Manning's performance. "I think the whole team is in a slump right
now. It's a team game. Everybody is in it. I wouldn't put it all on
one person at all. I'm in a slump."