INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -The Indianapolis Colts would do almost anything to avoid slowing down.
They live on a no-huddle offense and quick-hitting scores, and rely on defensive speed to force opponents into mistakes. So in Thursday night's season opener against New Orleans, the Colts hope to do - what else? - start fast.
``I believe it's important because you can get out in front and force other teams to play perfect football to catch you,'' coach Tony Dungy said Monday.
The evidence supports Dungy's theory.
Since Dungy's arrival in 2002, no team has had more early-season success than the Colts, and no team has been to the playoffs more often. Over the last five Septembers, Indy has turned a league-best 14-2 record into five straight playoff appearances, four straight division titles, two AFC championship game appearances and a Super Bowl title.
The Colts also are the only team in league history to go 9-0 in back-to-back seasons.
More impressive is that the Colts have gone 7-1 in season openers since 1999 despite playing on the road six times. The only loss came at New England in 2004 when Mike Vanderjagt missed a 48-yard field goal in the final minute, a score that could have forced overtime.
Consider, too, that Indy has 14 active veterans who have never lost an NFL game in September or October. The impeccable stats also include only one pre-Thanksgiving Day loss in 2005 and 2006.
What's their secret?
``I think we're always really prepared and we usually have a simple game plan,'' said starting linebacker Rob Morris, now in his eighth season with Indy. ``We're not trying to do too many things and guys are ready to go, mentally and physically.''
Dungy believes the success has more to do with veteran leadership.
While many offenses are still trying to refine timing early in the season, the Colts, with Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning and Pro Bowl receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, are already in sync.
``Our offense usually comes out of the box functioning very well,'' Dungy said. ``That's usually what takes time and we kind of hit the ground running.''
Or throwing, in the case of Manning.
In his last 16 September games, the two-time league MVP has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 11 games and thrown 31 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions. That includes a six TD performance at New Orleans in 2003 and five more against Green Bay in his record-setting 2004 season.
Yes, there has been the occasional stumble, such as an uninspiring 9-6 win at Cleveland in the 2003 opener, but the Colts have consistently figured out ways to win.
``I think we practice well in camp and get a lot done,'' tight end Dallas Clark said. ``I think our guys prepare well and the game plan usually allows us to get in a groove early.''
Manning and his teammates cannot afford a lapse Thursday against a team they easily could have faced in last year's Super Bowl.
New Orleans reached its first NFC championship game in January, and with a star-studded cast on offense has become a trendy pick to win this year's conference title.
Most expect this game to be a shootout between the league's two best passing offenses of 2006. Manning, who is from New Orleans, was the AFC's Pro Bowl starter at quarterback last year, while New Orleans' Drew Brees, who played at Purdue about an hour north of Indianapolis, started for the NFC.
Some have even billed it as a potential Super Bowl preview, something the Colts won't buy.
The reality is that because the Saints and Colts play in opposite conferences, the game has more hype than impact.
But that doesn't mean it won't set the tone for the rest of the season - something the Colts, as usual, want to establish quickly.
``We like to start fast and make other teams chase you,'' Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. ``But the reality is it's only one of 16 games.''

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