Colts not riding so high

ROB LONGLEY

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

A mere 52 weeks ago today, all was right in Indianapolis and then some.

The Colts were riding a 13-0 start looking for all the world like Super Bowl favourites and a team on its way to match the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Even Oakville's Mike Vanderjagt was making field goals for the Colts.

That streak came to a thudding halt when the San Diego Chargers rode into Indy and upset the Colts, 26-17.

The disappointment that afternoon was far easier to digest than life in the fast lane these days.

While a 10-3 record says the Colts are still contenders in the AFC, three losses the past four weeks shouts otherwise.

"We're all frustrated, we're all disappointed," Colts coach Tony Dungy said this week. "We know that we have to play better but we all feel like we can do that."

It probably would be best if that happened soon, given the resurgent Cincinnati Bengals are in town tomorrow night.

Recently the Colts run defence hasn't been able to stop anyone.

Last week, the Jags duo of Fred Taylor and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew combined for 249 yards on 16 carries in the first half alone.

The 375 yards they amassed for the game is the third most a defence has yielded since the Super Bowl era began in 1966.

"Man, you see a 76-yard run, 30-yard runs, 15-yard runs," Jags defensive end Paul Spicer said afterwards. "There were runs all over the place. I think I could have gone out there and gotten me 15 or 20 yards."

The defence is one thing, but what has happened to the once invincible Peyton Manning and company? Manning still leads the AFC in passing yards (3,628) but four of the past five weeks, the offence has been held under 20 points.

With tight end Dallas Clark and receiver Brandon Stokley out of the lineup due to injury and Edgerrin James long-gone to Arizona, the Colts are no longer feared.

"We have to just start playing our game," Dungy said. "We have to score when we have the football."

LEADING PRETENDERS

The Colts top a long list of teams that entered the season listed as serious contenders but are fading fast:

- New England (9-4). A 21-0 loss to Miami last week confirmed the warning signs of the previous two victories. Squeaking by Detroit and turning the ball over five times against Chicago just won't cut it a month from now. Super Bowl odds:14-1.

- Denver Broncos (7-6). As recently as mid-November they were 7-2 and tied for the AFC West lead. Now they are losers of four in a row, have undergone a quarterback change and a defensive implosion. SB odds: 60-1.

- Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7). Defending champs would need an even more miraculous finish than a year ago just to make the playoffs. SB Odds: 1,000-1.

- Seattle Seahawks (8-6). They may almost be home and cooled out in the AFC West but looking horrible in the process. Losses to the 49ers and Cardinals the past two weeks were borderline embarrassing. SB Odds: 12-1.

JUST FOR KICKS

In their 31-year history, the Tampa Bay Bucs have fielded 1,877 kickoffs and haven't returned a single one to paydirt.

Rookie Chicago Bears phenom Devin Hester has two in just 10 attempts, not to mention three punt returns and a missed field goal runback for four more scores.

"We might not even go -- might not even get on the plane," Bucs special team Rich Bisaccia said of today's meeting against the Bears. "I'm serious."

What he did the other night (two touchdowns vs. the Rams) was hard to watch."

Clinch means cinch?

The Bears were the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season, which in recent history, is a relatively good omen.

Each of the past three years, the first team to qualify for the post season made it to the Super Bowl -- Seattle, Philadelphia and New England.


Videos

Photos