INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning and his teammates treat every game the same.
They pay attention to the details, downplay the emotions and maintain their intensity — even when there's a crucial rematch like Monday night against Houston.
"It's big because it's the next one, it's big because it's a home game, it's big because it's a division team and it's big because it's a team that beat us the first time," Manning said. "But we treat them (the games) all with the same respect."
Manning's philosophy might explain why he's won four MVP awards, two AFC titles, one Super Bowl and led Indy to the NFL's best regular-season record this decade.
But this week's contest will be different.
Indianapolis (4-2) hasn't hosted a Monday night game since December 2006. Former coach Tony Dungy will join the team's ring of honor at halftime, and after winning six AFC South titles in eight years, the Colts reign could be in jeopardy.
The Colts are 0-2 against AFC South foes for the first time, and now find themselves in the precarious position of needing to hold serve to get even with the Texans (4-2) in the head-to-head category.
It's as close to a must-win game as the Colts will have all season.
"If they win, they'll get the tiebreaker and our first goal is to win the division," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "To do that, we've got to beat Houston."
The Texans certainly understand Indy's predicament.
After all, they've spent eight years chasing the Colts and sometimes branded these matchups as the most important in franchise history. Now, it appears, Houston has caught up to the big boys on the block.
The Texans dominated Indy in the season-opener, riding running back Arian Foster's 231-yard day to a 34-24 victory and improving to 2-15 all-time against the Colts. Another win Monday would give Houston its first season sweep and the inside track to dethroning the division champs.
"As I've said before, they've been a juggernaut in this division for years, and they've been our Achilles' heel," Foster said. "That (win) was only one game. You can't win anything with only one game. So it wasn't like we did anything. It was an important game, but it was only one game."
Winning again, in prime time, on national television and on the Colts' home turf, would prove Round 1 was no fluke.
And the Texans will get Indy at less than full strength.
Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark had season-ending surgery on his right wrist last week. Receiver Austin Collie, who is fourth in the NFL with 44 catches, will miss the game after having surgery on his right thumb last week. Joseph Addai, Indy's best blocking back, might not play against his hometown team after injuring a nerve in his left shoulder, and his backup, Donald Brown, remains questionable with a hamstring injury.
Their absences could leave Manning with a group that includes third-year tight end Jacob Tamme, a special teams stalwart who has not caught a pass all season; former first-round pick Anthony Gonzalez, who hasn't played since spraining his right ankle in the season opener; little-used running back Mike Hart and running back Javarris James, an undrafted free agent who has already played with three teams this season.
Houston isn't buying it.
"That one weapon that's going to take all them snaps is pretty good," coach Gary Kubiak said.
The Texans are making adjustments, too.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles' tendon, and Brian Cushing, who was suspended for the first Indy game, is moving into Ryans' spot in the middle. Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson has been dealing with a sprained ankle since Week 2, and left tackle Duane Brown is making his return after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's banned substance policy.Comment on this story
But winning this one could set the tone for the rest of the division chase.
"This is a must-win for us," Houston safety Bernard Pollard said. "This is a must-win for our defense. This is a time for us to step up."
The calm Colts see it another way.
"We want to win the game, we need to win the game," Dwight Freeney said. "I don't think a loss would put us out of the division race because they could lose five straight after this. All we know is that we have to win this game, just like any other game."