INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -The Indianapolis defense spent three games and 3 1/2 quarters struggling to get things right.
The Colts couldn't stop the run, get off the field or produce the big plays that have been their hallmark.
Suddenly, over the last 65 minutes of game action, the Colts have started to change that image by allowing just one field goal, forcing eight turnovers and accounting for one more touchdown than their opponents' offenses - numbers that have coach Tony Dungy shaking his head.
``I wish I knew why,'' he said Monday, one day after the Colts routed Baltimore 31-3. ``I thought we hustled. We played faster yesterday for whatever reason, and usually when you're playing faster, you do get those takeaways.''
There are plenty of explanations for the remarkable shift, but the biggest factor may be confidence.
fill holes left by free agent defections or personnel moves.
By training camp, those plans were already changing.
Indy's two defensive leaders, Bob Sanders (shoulder) and Dwight Freeney (foot), were on the physically unable to perform list following surgery. They didn't return to the field until mid-August.
Starting outside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler also wound up on PUP after tearing a pectoral muscle while lifting weights in July. Hagler still hasn't practiced though it's likely he will return this week.
Then came other problems.
Indy (3-2) waived starting defensive tackle Ed Johnson, considered its best run stuffer, in early September after he was stopped for speeding and subsequently charged with marijuana possession. Sanders, last season's defensive player of the year, sprained his right ankle in Week 2 against Minnesota, and cornerback Kelvin Hayden missed Sunday's game with a left knee injury.
The Colts spent the first month adapting to the replacements. Now, the new starters such as linebacker Clint Session and safety Melvin Bullitt seem more certain of where they're supposed to be, allowing them to get to the ball quicker.
``The reason it's happened is guys are playing faster,'' defensive captain Gary Brackett said. ``I like to say you have to step with a purpose out there and everyone started buying into that last week.''
and it was the historic comeback at Houston that turned things around. The defense produced three turnovers in the last five minutes, giving Dungy an opportunity to teach his youngsters what it takes to fight through adversity in the NFL.
Those players responded Sunday against Baltimore.
Bullitt had five tackles, intercepted Joe Flacco on the third play of the game and broke up another pass. Tim Jennings, who replaced Hayden in the lineup, had 10 tackles, an interception and forced one fumble. Robert Mathis, who swatted the ball away from Sage Rosenfels deep in Texans territory near the end of the Houston game, finished with three sacks, forced one fumble and recovered yet another fumble.
And in the first quarter, thanks mostly to two turnovers and a sack, the Colts jumped to a 17-0 lead that virtually nullified Baltimore's strong running game and played right into Indy's strength, the pass rush.
Just like Dungy scripted it.
``Our defense is built on maintaining a lead, so when we have to come from behind, it's a lot harder,'' Mathis said. ``When we're ahead, they have to throw. It's just trying to get the ball out and get our offense on the field.''
If the Colts continue to force turnovers, the outlook for this season could fall back in line, too.
a couple of weeks would make Indy's uncharacteristic slow start little more than a memory.
Can they keep this up?
Dungy believes it's possible. After all, that's one of the founding principles of his defense.
``Maybe they're averaging out because we went a long time without getting any (turnovers),'' Dungy said. ``We feel like we can stress that and get it done and that we have takeaway players.''

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