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Need vs. want

Bolts' desperation trumps Colts' desire for perfection

Posted: Sunday December 18, 2005 9:00PM; Updated: Monday December 19, 2005 6:45PM
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Drew Brees and the Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive, but they'll need the Steelers to stumble.
Drew Brees and the Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive, but they'll need the Steelers to stumble.
AP
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Well that takes care of Tony Dungy's little late-season dilemma, doesn't it?

The perfect season in Indianapolis is history all right. As in over. Finished. Kaput. But then, that's the thing about perfection. It's so darn unforgiving. Demanding even. Make one mistake, and everybody's ready to suggest the Teflon roof is falling. Even when it's not.

"It was a fun streak and no one wanted it to end,'' said Dungy, the Colts head coach, minutes after his club's 26-17 loss to visiting San Diego ensured the enduring and singular legacy of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. "Our guys wanted to stay undefeated. They didn't want to lose at all. They wanted to go 16-0. But the Chargers just outplayed us today.''

The reason the Colts are 13-1 and the masses no longer care so much about how many starters Dungy will play next week at Seattle is really quite simple. Dungy himself hinted at the crux of the issue: It's tough to play in the NFL when you don't have much to play for.

Even though they've already locked up a playoff berth, the AFC South title, and homefield advantage in the conference throughout the postseason, the Colts certainly wanted to win Sunday at the raucous RCA Dome that they call home.

But the Chargers had to win. Had to. Or else they were all but dead in the water in the three-team Battle Royale wild-card chase they're locked in along with Pittsburgh and Kansas City. And in the NFL as in life, had-to usually beats want-to. By a comfortable margin.

Dungy said he didn't sense that his Colts -- in their first week of post-clinching limbo -- played with any less urgency against San Diego. For evidence, he cited Indianapolis digging out of a 16-0 third-quarter hole to take a 17-16 lead into the final 15 minutes.

But Colts cornerback Nick Harper begged to differ.

"You can't come out [in the first half] and play that flat and then expect to beat a good team in the second half -- it doesn't work like that,'' said Harper, of Indy's 13-0 halftime deficit. "We got away with it early in the season, because teams weren't that good. But when you play playoff-caliber teams, you can't start slow and expect to beat them in the end.''

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