INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts still control their own playoff destiny. Barely.
How much longer they'll be in control depends on how fast they can get things fixed.
With Peyton Manning mired in the worst slump of his pro career and the Colts reeling from a rare three-game losing streak, Indy's regular playoff booking is now in jeopardy. Even the usually optimistic Jim Caldwell admits time is running out.
"At some point in time, the opportunities diminish and so we have to take advantage of it," the Colts coach said Monday.
For the Colts (6-6), there is no time to waste.
Indy has already seen its league-record streak of seven consecutive 12-win seasons end, and one more loss would snap the league's longest active streak of 10-win seasons and playoff appearances at eight straight. A loss Thursday night, at Tennessee, would hand the Colts their fourth four-game losing streak of the Manning era -- two of them came when he was a rookie.
And the one guy most believe could get the Colts out of this funk, Manning, is the same guy who has put them in it. Manning has thrown 11 interceptions in the past three weeks, a career-high over that span. And he's thrown 12 TD passes in that stretch, too -- eight to teammates, four to defensive players.
"He is the most frustrated guy in America right now," former Colts coach Tony Dungy said on NBC after Sunday's loss to Dallas. "He is not used to making mistakes that cost his team games. What is happening is he's pressing too much."
Manning's woes are only part of the problem.
Over the last five weeks, the Colts have averaged 54.6 yards rushing and 3.0 yards per carry. On Sunday, Caldwell changed starting right guards, again, and alternated between Kyle DeVan and Jamey Richard at left guard. Indy's defense hasn't helped, either, forcing no turnovers during the losing streak, and the injury situation isn't getting any better.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers sustained what Caldwell described as a "significant" arm injury, running back Joseph Addai has missed six straight games with a nerve injury in his left shoulder, and receiver Austin Collie has played three quarters in the last six games, most recently because of a concussion.
There's no guarantee any of those three will play against the Titans, either.
With the rash of injuries and the ugly numbers, the Colts have, predictably, lost four of their last five and seen their domination of the AFC South put in peril.
Yet, with three of the final four games against division foes, the Colts still have a chance.
A sweep would likely give Indy a seventh AFC South crown in eight years. Losing any of the three could keep the defending AFC champs home in January.
Here's the scenario:
- The Jets and Patriots each have two losses heading into Monday night's game with one of them projected to be the AFC's top wild-card seed.
- The other wild-card team is likely to come from the AFC North. Pittsburgh is 9-3 and Baltimore is 8-4.
- Indy trails Jacksonville by one game in the South, and the Jaguars have a 1-0 lead in the head-to-head matchup. The two teams play in Indy on Dec. 19. The Jags also have a better division record (3-1) than Indy (1-2), and a better record against the AFC (6-3) than the Colts (4-4).
That's good enough for Caldwell to make his case to the players.
"Looking at the way things have been going on throughout the year, nobody's really separated themselves from the pack," Caldwell said. "But I think consistency across the league really has not been commonplace, so I think it has left a number of teams with opportunities, including ourselves."
Can the Colts fix the problems in time?
Having a road trip on an already short week won't help this week.
Caldwell acknowledged that instead of spending Monday on the practice field making corrections, players, who took Monday off, will have to make those fixes in their head.
And, of course, if Manning starts playing like the only four-time MVP in league history instead of the mistake-prone quarterback of the last three weeks, the Colts could turn things around quickly.
At least that's the hope.
"It's pretty simple. All we have to do is look at what we do at this time of year," Caldwell said. "We have to be able to string four together in order to get that done. I don't think there's anything more plain than that."