INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -It took the Indianapolis Colts two months to find their groove.
Now the Colts are as hot as any team in the league. They swept what was supposed to be their most brutal stretch of the season and have a favorable closing schedule that propel them to a playoff berth.
But players and coaches are keeping things in perspective.
``I think winning streaks are all relative,'' linebacker Gary Brackett said Wednesday. ``Look, Tennessee won 10 in a row, so we're still behind.''
Clearly, the Colts (7-4) are playing like their old selves.
Two-time league MVP Peyton Manning is back in sync with his receivers, Joseph Addai is producing more yards on the ground and Marvin Harrison has 15 receptions in the past two weeks. The defense is getting sacks and forcing opponents into mistakes. Coach Tony Dungy even acknowledges the usually maligned special teams coverage units are performing better than they have in years.
No wonder the Colts haven't lost since Oct. 27.
at is expected to be a chilly game, the Colts could finish on a run. Their remaining schedule: at Cleveland (4-7), at home against Detroit (0-11) and Cincinnati (1-9-1), at fading Jacksonville (4-7). Their toughest matchup is at home against Tennessee team to end the regular season.
Since the Colts' last loss, at Tennessee, Indy has beaten three of the AFC's preseason Super Bowl favorites - New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego - two of those on the road.
What's changed?
``The biggest thing is we've avoided the catastrophes on offense,'' Dungy said. ``We haven't had as many penalties, we haven't had the first and second down sacks, so you stay in third-and-5, third-and-6 and that helps your percentages. It makes everything look a little sharper.''
The truth is, the Colts are playing sharper.
Manning struggled early after coming back from offseason knee surgery, throwing 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the first seven games. He has nine touchdowns and one interception in the past four and is on pace to throw more than 600 passes for the first time in his career.
Stability along the offensive line has helped, too.
Injuries decimated one of the league's best units in September and it resulted in uncharacteristic numbers. Manning was sacked nine times in the first five games, but that has dropped to three in the last six. Still, the Colts again have to cope with the loss of Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday for at least three weeks with a strained calf. Rookie Jamey Richard, who replaced the injured Saturday in the first two games, is back to starting.
``Everybody else has to step up and raise their level of play,'' Manning said. ``Jeff's a guy who I've never taken for granted and the things that he's brought to the table.''
Perhaps the biggest improvement has come on third down.
Indy's conversion rate over the past four games is 60.3 percent in a league where 50 percent is considered high. During the first seven games, the Colts converted 41.6 percent of third-down plays and the difference means the offense has been able to stay on the field and wear down opposing defenses.
``I've always thought third downs are converted, if you will, on first and second down,'' Manning said. ``When we're really rolling, you don't have to get into third down. You are allowed to get a first down on second down. That's what you like.''
While the Colts have gotten healthier, they're still not at full strength.
Saturday missed most of last Sunday's game in San Diego, and safety Bob Sanders, last year's defensive player of the year, has missed the last two games after his right knee swelled up. Dungy said Sanders, who missed five games earlier this season with knee and ankle injuries, is again doubtful this week.
If Sanders and Saturday return and the Colts continue playing well, Dungy knows exactly what can happen.
He often tells players that getting hot at the right time is often more important than playoff seeds, and this year, the Colts have a chance to prove it.
``We're really not talking much about what we've done and what's happened in the past few weeks as much as this game ahead of us,'' Manning said. ``That's all we're thinking about. I think we're playing with a sense of urgency.''

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