Colts ready to end talk, rebound against Browns
David J. Phillip, File, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — The usually quiet Indianapolis Colts are becoming a surly bunch.
Last week, they bristled at the suggestion they'd falter without Peyton Manning. After a dismal season-opener, they're downright ornery.
Players and coaches spent most of the week trying to figure out what went wrong at Houston, how to make corrections and map out a game plan to rebound against Cleveland this week.
It's not just talk. The Colts are spitting mad.
"It's not easy any time you get beaten like that," Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. "But we've got too much pride in our team and our teammates to just take it."
Conventional wisdom suggests that this is how the Colts will look without Manning, a four-time league MVP who had started 227 consecutive games including the playoffs before last week. He's expected to miss at least two months after having his third neck surgery in 19 months last week.
The Colts (0-1) claim those suggestions are, well, premature.
Indy hasn't started 0-2 since 1998, Manning's rookie season, and the Colts have no intention of doing that this year. But they must prove they can win without their leader.
"Regardless of anything that happens — Peyton being there, Peyton not being there — it doesn't mean you're going to have a bad season," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "It just means you had a bad first week. That's Round 1 out of 16 rounds. We lost Round 1. We just have to do things a little better."
Round 2 comes Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium, this year's Super Bowl site.
Plenty has changed since these teams last met in 2008.
New coach Pat Shurmur is looking for his first career win. Colt McCoy has taken over at quarterback, and Peyton Hillis is the Browns' workhorse running back.
However, the results haven't changed much over the last three years.
The Browns (0-1) have won more than six games just one time since 2002, and are undergoing another rebuilding project.
"For us, it's all about focusing on the next game we have, focusing on the 2011 Browns, learning the offense, learning the defense, getting wins, putting wins together, and turning this into a winning team," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "All those historical things kind of take care of themselves."
The first step, for both teams, is fighting back.
Indy is coming off one of its most abysmal performances in years. The offense scored only seven points at Houston, the defense couldn't get off the field and the punt return team gave up a touchdown return in the final minute of the first half. With no Manning to bail out the Colts any time soon, fans are already fretting as players avoid panicking.
"Last week, people are up in arms about what happened, and this week is a new challenge," said defensive captain Gary Brackett, who will miss Sunday's game with a left shoulder injury. "We can go out there and redeem ourselves, and be sitting pretty again."
Cleveland players are also trying to tamp down concerns after last week's comedy of errors.
On a punt return that Josh Cribbs might have scored on, a Browns blocker hit a Bengals player, sending both into Cribbs and knocking him to the ground.
And Shurmur's coaching debut will undoubtedly be remembered for the play Cleveland lost track of. When the Bengals quick-snapped the ball in the fourth quarter, the napping Browns (0-1) were just breaking the huddle and Cincinnati threw a 41-yard TD pass for the go-ahead score.
Shurmur insists the Browns have learned from that mistake, perhaps just in time to avoid a repeat against an Indy team that has traditionally liked the fast tempo.
"We need to answer it.," Shurmur said. "We just have to make sure that we cover down. It's a hard lesson to learn on that play. We'll do better."
Indy hasn't been the same this season.
The coaches slowed things down for Kerry Collins' debut. The revamped offensive line broke down far too often last week, and Collins lost two fumbles in the first 15 minutes. They're hoping with another week of practice that Collins and the offense will look more normal Sunday.
But the Colts know there's only way to muzzle the critics: Start winning.
"It doesn't really matter what they think, to be honest with you," receiver Austin Collie said. "We're going to back on the field and we're going to be OK."
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