No rest for Colts just yet

Bears' QB issues brewing

December 12, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

Decision time is finally here for Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith.

Crying time has officially arrived for Reggie Bush, too, just one day after he gleefully accepted the Heisman Trophy.

Week 14 brought back the swinging gate and Jerome Bettis. It knocked out the Philadelphia Eagles and knocked down the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Get ready to shuffle some playoff seeds; there's some serious work to be done before the New Year's regular-season finale.

First things first, though. Today's order of business starts with the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts, who silenced the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-18, yesterday.

That wrapped up their third straight AFC South title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Left uncertain is how Dungy will handle the final three games and the team's dance with destiny.

The Colts joined the 1934 Chicago Bears, 1972 Miami Dolphins and 1998 Denver Broncos as the only teams in NFL history to go 13-0. Those Bears lost the championship game that year, the Broncos lost their 14th and 15th games but still won the Super Bowl, and the Dolphins capped their 17-0 season with a Super Bowl victory.

The Colts would have to beat the Chargers next week, and the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals after that, then sweep three postseason games to match the Dolphins' perfect season.

Dungy has said time and again he doesn't care about being perfect as long as the Colts win the Super Bowl. He said it again yesterday, but made clear he was more concerned with the matter of momentum than with history.

"We definitely want to win," he told reporters after the game. "We're going to play to win and go from there. We're going to keep our mantra: one game at a time. We're going to do everything we can do to beat San Diego and we're not going to look ahead."

The intimation is that the Colts won't shut it down anytime soon by resting quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Edgerrin James.

Truth is, the Colts can't afford to sit their regulars just yet. With three weeks left and a bye before the playoffs, that's a whole month of down time. And the Colts don't want to lose their edge on offense or defense by turning games over to Jim Sorgi and Dominic Rhodes.

By the Arizona game, Dungy almost certainly will become protective and keep his stars out of harm's way. But it seems more logical that he'll have them playing against the Chargers and Seahawks, the two teams with a realistic chance to administer that first loss.

Dungy opted for some history of his own in Jacksonville when he called for a fake field goal with a 14-3 lead. What was unusual about the fake was that the Colts ran it out of the old swinging gate formation. They lined up four players, including kicker and holder, over the ball, and sent the other seven players off to the left side of the field.

Hunter Smith, the holder and punter, took the snap and then threw a pass for Justin Snow, the longer snapper, but it fell incomplete. So much for history.

Lovie Smith, meanwhile, is the other coach who faces a decision today. He has a quarterback issue that's been brewing for three weeks with the Chicago Bears.

His rookie quarterback, Kyle Orton, had directed eight straight wins until a dismal 21-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The problem is, over the past three games, Orton has completed just 37 of 80 passes, 46.3 percent, and the offense needs a pick-me-up.

With former No. 1 draft pick Rex Grossman recovered from a broken ankle and on the sideline as the backup, Smith has an option now. Even though he didn't use it in Pittsburgh, it doesn't mean he won't when the Bears host the Atlanta Falcons next week.

As for Reggie Bush, his fate is tied into the bottom of the NFL standings. Unless the spectacular running back returns to Southern California for his senior year, he'll almost certainly be the first pick in the draft either by the Houston Texans (1-12) or San Francisco 49ers (2-11), although the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints all remain in the running.

The Texans went to extraordinary means to protect the No. 1 pick in a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Kicker Kris Brown had a potential go-ahead field goal of 37 yards blocked with 3:48 left. Then he missed a potential tying 31-yard kick as time expired.

Interesting enough, the man Bush would replace, Domanick Davis, ran for 139 yards.

Other playoff developments in Week 14:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Carolina Panthers, 20-10, and took their fourth seed in the NFC. Both teams are 9-4, but the Bucs have a better division record.

The Chargers and Chiefs, battling for the last wild-card spot in the AFC, both lost to drop to 8-5 each. That allowed the Steelers, also 8-5, to revive their sliding hopes, thanks to the first 100-yard rushing game of the season for Bettis, their 33-year-old warrior. The Chargers have beaten the Chiefs once so far, and have a better conference record than Pittsburgh.

The Dallas Cowboys kept their faltering hopes alive with a 31-28 victory over the Chiefs. The Cowboys max-protected quarterback Drew Bledsoe against the Chiefs' blitzing defense, and he delivered three touchdown passes.

The Eagles, last year's NFC champs, were eliminated in a 26-23 overtime loss to the New York Giants.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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