INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts exude a confidence that belies their youth. They also have no intention of waiting for next year to get to the NFL playoffs.
The Colts (5-2) will match their victory total for the past two years combined with one more victory. They'll try to do that Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) visit.
"We are young. I think that's one reason why we're a pretty good team," said Peyton Manning, who in his second season has a career-high 91.4 quarterback rating. "We're kind of a fresh team, but at the same point we'd like to lose that young adjective and just keep playing well week after week."
"You're here for the moment. You're not here for the future," said defensive end Chad Bratzke, the free agent signee who leads the team with seven sacks. "You have to believe you can win every game. I don't see us standing here and saying, `This is a rebuilding year.' You can't come to work like that every day and be successful."
Manning has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,991 yards and 14 TDs. He's the 12th quarterback in league history to throw a touchdown pass in 20 consecutive games, a run that is the longest among active quarterbacks.
Manning is leading an offensive unit whose oldest starter is tight end Ken Dilger, 28. Dilger, a second-round pick out of Illinois in 1995, also is the most experienced member of the unit with 66 starts in his 69 games.
Three times this year, Manning has produced a comeback victory in the fourth quarter. The latest was Sunday when Indianapolis won 34-31 after trailing Dallas 24-21 after three quarters. The Cowboys got a 10-0 lead with the help of a 70-yard punt return by Deion Sanders that set up a touchdown and a blocked punt that led to a field goal.
"I don't think you can do that over the course of the season, spot a team like the Chiefs 10 points right off the bat," Manning said. "We need to come out and eliminate our mistakes. ... Overcoming mistakes like that, it's too hard to do every week."
The trio of Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and rookie running back Edgerrin James have been in the league a combined 5 1/2 years.
All three are leaders in the AFC in most offensive statistics and are a major reason Indianapolis is third in the league and first in the AFC in offense, averaging of 280.3 yards per game.
"There are a lot of things we haven't done yet. We beat the Cowboys in a big game, but we still haven't been in the playoffs," Manning said. "I don't think you can take the approach, let's just keep playing well and really next year, and the year after that we're really going to start doing things.
"We have a good opportunity now. Our division is going to be a close battle down to the end. ... We realize the opportunity we have this year."
With each success the confidence of a franchise that has finished 3-13 two consecutive years has increased.
"We've done a few things this year. We beat a good team like the Cowboys. We've come back from deficits against the Chargers, the Jets and the Cowboys," Manning said. "When you do that, you have that confidence, you have that belief. It helps going into the next games."
At 21, James is one of the team's youngest members and the rookie running back has rapidly become a force with which opposing defenses must contend. The fourth overall pick in the draft leads the AFC and is second in the league with 633 yards rushing and 838 yards from scrimmage.
After a three-week holdout in training camp, James reported in shape and won his teammates over with his dedication.
"You get so comfortable with these guys and you expect to see them next year and the year after. If things go well, you have the same group and you'll just get better and better," James said. "We know what type of players we have. You can go to war with these type of players right now. There's not any thought of getting it done next year."
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