An unfortunate injury has left the Indianapolis Colts a shell of the team that was the NFL’s model of consistency for a decade, posting double-digit wins in nine straight seasons and making two Super Bowl appearances - winning once.
But as the seventh week of the season arrives, the Colts, who are more accustomed to being undefeated at this point, are on the opposite end of the spectrum - winless, yet scuffling to make something happen.
Which makes the wounded Colts a pretty dangerous opponent as far as the New Orleans Saints are concerned going into their primetime matchup at 7:20 p.m. Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (NBC).
Even with four-time league MVP Peyton Manning sitting out another game following two neck surgeries, the Saints (4-2) said they can’t afford to take the Colts (0-6) lightly.
“This team is a very functional organization. They have a very functional management team,” Saints assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt warned earlier this week. “They’ve won a lot of games together. Right now, they’ve got a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who is not playing, so they’re in a little bit of a transition mode right now.
“They’re getting better ? they’re playing hard,” Vitt said of the Colts, who put together a sparkling 109-35 record from 2002-10. “They’re playing with great enthusiasm, with great body language. You don’t hear any chirping coming out of that organization.”
That’ll make two teams that won’t be feeling sorry for themselves when they get together.
Manning, who’ll likely watch the game from the coaches’ booth in the press box, won’t be too far away from Saints coach Sean Payton, who will be calling offensive plays from his team’s booth while recovering from a leg injury suffered a week ago.
While many back in the spring envisioned the primetime game being a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV, which the Saints won 31-17, it’ll hardly be that considering the Colts’ plight.
On top of that, both teams are vastly different with fewer than 50 percent of the players on the respective Super Bowl rosters no longer with their teams.
But Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who scored his team’s first touchdown in that Super Bowl, said he believes the Colts won’t forget the loss - adding perhaps an extra element to their efforts to snap their losing streak.
“The way I look at it is, they’re going to come out for revenge,” said Thomas, whose team returns to the Superdome after three straight road games. “They have nothing to lose, and they just want to come back and try to get payback on us. We have to come out and be ready because they have a tough team. No matter what their record is, you can’t look at that.”
Quarterback Drew Brees agreed.
“I think they like what they’ve seen over the last few weeks,” said Brees, who set an NFL record with his fourth straight 350-yard passing game last week. “While they haven’t been able to win some of these games, they’re right there in every single one of them.
“They’ve lost late in the fourth quarter four weeks in a row,” he said of the Colts, who have dropped those four games by an average of six points. “In other words, they’re right there competing and ready to win that game.”
The Colts, however, have struggled on both sides of the ball - ranking 31st out of 32 teams in total offense with 284.7 yards per game and 27th in total defense in allowing 392.5 yards per game even though defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are still playing at a high level.
The offense has suffered a little more without Manning, first with Kerry Collins and then with second-year pro Curtis Painter, and is averaging 28th in both rushing (84.0) and passing (200.7).
They also rank 28th with just 17.3 points a game while scoring 20 points or more just twice in their six games.
Painter will start against the Saints as Collins has been suffering the past three weeks with lingering effects from a concussion suffered on Sept. 25.
Despite Manning’s absence, Brees said he is excited about the quarterback matchup since he and Painter, who has completed just 54.9 percent of his passes, both played at Purdue and have followed each other’s careers closely.
“I’ve been asked whether I get up a little extra for when I’m going against a Super Bowl champion quarterback or something like that, and I think deep down as a competitor you say absolutely,” Brees said. “The fact is never once am I going up against Peyton Manning directly.
“It’s me and my offense against their defense, just like it’s him and their offense against our defense. The fact is it’s the first time we’ve played, these guys since the Super Bowl. It’s Sunday Night Football. We’ve been on the road for a long time coming back home.”
Saints make moves
The Saints announced on Saturday that they waived veteran center Olin Kreutz after he left the team on Friday and signed quarterback Sean Canfield to take Kreutz’s spot on the 53-man active roster.
Canfield, a seventh-round draft pick from Oregon State in 2010, has been on and off the practice squad the last two seasons.
The Saints also waived veteran tackle Alex Barron, who had knee surgery early in training camp, from the injured reserve list.