Colts hope to show no rust against Ravens
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are trying to repress those old playoff memories.
Back in 2005, they were undefeated entering December, had a bye week in early January and a home date against the AFC's No. 6 seed (Pittsburgh), which had lost in the AFC championship a year earlier.
The Colts lost.
Tonight, Indy faces the same scenario against another AFC North foe, Baltimore.
"That was 2005, and that was a completely different team," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "It was a completely different defense. There's not much that needs to be said other than 'This is the playoffs.' Either win or go home."
It's a simple philosophy the Colts (14-2) understand as well as any team still in the hunt.
Despite having the most successful decade in regular-season history (115 wins), an NFL record seven straight 12-win seasons and the league mark for most consecutive regular-season wins (23), Indianapolis has won just one Super Bowl title.
Critics contend they've struggled in the playoffs because those long, late-season breaks made them rusty.
This time, they're at least healthy. Not one player missed practice this week, a first this season.
But the lesson is clear: Regular-season success, seeding and oddsmakers mean nothing in the postseason. Being sharp does.
"Don't go out there and look like you haven't played a game in six months," receiver Reggie Wayne said when asked what the Colts learned from their early exits.
A victory clearly would help the Colts change perceptions after two straight playoff losses, both to San Diego. Indy hasn't won in the postseason since beating Chicago in the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
Baltimore (10-7), meanwhile, understands what it takes to win playoff games on the road — a suffocating defense and a proficient running game.
That was the game plan Baltimore used to win its Super Bowl title following the 2000 season as a wild-card team. They won their first-round game again last Sunday, handing New England its only home playoff loss since 1978 though quarterback Joe Flacco threw only 10 passes. It didn't matter on a day when the Ravens defense intercepted Tom Brady three times and its offense ran for 234 yards.
CHARGERS' MERRIMAN EAGER TO PLAY TOMORROW
The postseason lights are coming back on for Shawne Merriman.
The San Diego Chargers outside linebacker, nicknamed "Lights Out" for his hard hits, is eager for tomorrow's divisional game against the New York Jets.
Merriman missed almost all the 2008 season, as well as San Diego's two playoff games, as he rehabbed from reconstructive knee surgery.
"It was tough, man," Merriman said yesterday. "It was one of the hardest things I had to do. My team made it without me, but I knew that I could be a big contributor out there."
Without Merriman last year, the Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime, then were manhandled in a loss at Pittsburgh.
This year, the Bolts (13-3) earned the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. They go into their opener with an 11-game winning streak.