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News » The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind., Reggie Hayes column: Colts vs. Titans: Near-miss for classic

The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind., Reggie Hayes column: Colts vs. Titans: Near-miss for classic

The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind., Reggie Hayes column: Colts vs. Titans: Near-miss for classic
Dec. 27--The NFL is a game of inches, and the Indianapolis Colts -Tennessee Titans game will miss being a classic by the slimmest of margins.

That difference: a pass interference call on Colts linebacker Freddy Keiaho in Week 3. If the questionable flag doesn't come out late in the Jacksonville game, the Colts beat the Jaguars and this game would be for the AFC South title. The NFL would have pushed it straight to prime time.

Instead, it's a glorified exhibition game between the 13-2 Titans and the 11-4 Colts at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It serves as a prelude to more pertinent games, such as the Broncos-Chargers battle to see who hosts the Colts next week.

"We were hoping this game would mean a lot more for us, but it doesn't," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "That's the way it goes. But I think you have to give (the Titans) a lot of credit. They've played outstanding Football and they deserve to be where they are. That being said, we're going to try to see if we can keep momentum going."

The question for Colts fans lies in what Dungy means in keeping momentum going.

He has made it a game plan in the past to treat late-season games with no playoff implications as opportunities to rest players. He has pulled key starters early. He has reintroduced Jim Sorgi to the offensive line.

With that strategy, Dungy has lost some meaningless games and, in the minds of some fans, hurt his team's momentum heading into the playoffs. However, all previous incidents have preceded Colts home playoff games, so a comparison to this season might not hold weight.

"The only thing that will make (the fans) feel like it's the right way to go is if we win the Super Bowl," Dungy said. "We know that going in. Whatever you do, if you win, it's the right thing and you were smart; and if you don't win, you did the wrong thing and you are not very smart."

The Colts will be on the road for the duration of this year's playoffs, unless the other wild-card team ends up reaching the AFC title game with the Colts.

Give credit to Dungy. He doesn't sway with public opinion. He maps out a plan and he sticks to it. That's one reason why the Colts have rebounded from their 3-4 start to finish with a shot at a 12-win season for the sixth straight year.

How many starters will rest, and how long, against the Titans remains to be seen. Linebacker Gary Brackett is still out with a cracked fibula, and Dungy doesn't know whether he'll return for the playoffs; Keiaho will also be out with a hamstring injury. Running back Dominic Rhodes needs some rest to heal some bumps and bruises. Does anyone believe Bob Sanders will be on the field for more than a brief appearance? Marvin Harrison told Dungy he felt good enough to play. That doesn't mean he will.

The Titans are also banged up. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is out with a knee injury. Others questionable to play include center Kevin Mawae, cornerback Nick Harper, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and running back LenDale White.

Dungy said a number of veterans have approached him about playing extensively in the game. One positive for the Colts could be extensive time for linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, a former starter who has fought injury this season.

But there's another issue besides rest at stake. The Colts and the Titans could meet again during the playoffs. So any new wrinkles or strategies that might play out at that time would likely be kept in storage.

"Unless you are hurting or banged up, most guys want to play," Dungy said. "But we have to do the prudent thing. You have to think about what's best for the franchise, and it's not an easy call. You're trying to balance it and walk that fine line and still win games."

There are some milestones ahead. Manning needs 93 yards passing to reach 4,000 for the ninth time in his 11 seasons and Dallas Clark needs 41 yards to set a new Colts record for receiving yardage by a tight end.

There's also the chance that this could be the last home game for Dungy, who will consider retirement after the season, and Harrison, who may be too costly to retain next year.

Dungy said the bottom line is what he'll follow: "Your primary goal (is) still to be the best team that you can be in the playoffs."

Colts vs. Titans has no obvious playoff implications. So Dungy will operate with a big-picture in mind. Whether that's the right point of view won't come completely into focus until the Colts reach Denver or San Diego.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com

To see more of The News-Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.FortWayne.com. Copyright (c) 2008, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 28, 2008

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Kyle Vanden Bosch Name: Kyle Vanden Bosch
Position: DE
Age: 29
Experience: 8 years
College: Nebraska
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