By Damon Hack
September 27, 2007

Tony Dungy was having a conversation in a hallway at the Colts' practice facility last week when a team employee came out of a door from a nearby office. As the employee approached, Dungy stopped him and appeared concerned.

"Are we too loud?" Dungy, ever courteous, asked.

The employee said no and continued walking.

That small snapshot is the essence of Dungy -- considerate, understated -- and, in some ways, the same applies to a Colts team that has quietly and without fanfare begun the defense of a Super Bowl title with a 3-0 record to sit atop the better-than-advertised AFC South.

Against the backdrop of quick starts by the New England Patriots in the AFC and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC, the Colts continue to stack win upon win with a smooth consistency. See Peyton Manning throw. See Marvin Harrison catch. Rinse and repeat.

The Colts, though, have proven to be so much more -- versatile, talented and apparently still hungry for championships. In the face of NFL parity, a possible Super Bowl hangover and several offseason questions, the Colts are playing sound and steady football in the season's early weeks. With great anticipation for their Nov. 4 tilt against New England at the RCA Dome -- a possible showdown for homefield advantage in the AFC -- the Colts are busy breaking in players at key positions and trying to build cohesion for the long haul.

During the offseason, the Colts lost their Pro Bowl left tackle, Tarik Glenn, their leading tackler in linebacker Cato June, and their four leaders in interceptions (June, Nick Harper, Mike Doss and Jason David).

How would running back Joseph Addai, who shared the load with Dominic Rhodes last year, fare with the bulk of the Colts' carries? Would another receiver emerge to complement Harrison, Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark? And how would that Colts' defense hold up?

Addai is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with four. Rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez is averaging 17.6 yards a catch. The defense is ranked fifth in yards allowed per game at 286.7. Rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh and second-year linebacker Freddy Keiaho have been key contributors.

Most important, though, could be Dungy's sense that his team has left last season in the past while embracing the challenges of 2007 with vigor.

"From the time we came back in March, really, they have been focused on this year," Dungy said last week. "We took a little extra time off after the Super Bowl, and I think that was the right thing to do for these guys because when they did come back, it was, 'Let's go ahead and get started.' We knew we were going to lose some players, so we never had the feeling of business as usual. It was the new, exciting feeling of a new year."

It is understandable that the Colts might still have plenty of fuel and incentive, even with last season's title. Before breaking through against the Patriots in the AFC Championship and against the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, the Colts had experienced misery in the postseason.

In Dungy's first year as Indianapolis's head coach, the Colts lost 41-0 to the Jets in a wild card game. Two consecutive winter defeats to the Patriots followed, as did a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then came last season's postseason run.

"Everybody was like, 'New England curse. You can't beat New England,'" safety Bob Sanders said of sentiment outside the Colts' locker room heading into last season's AFC Championship. "We were down for 59 minutes. For it to go the way we wanted it to was awesome."

Sanders said one of the things he will always remember was Dungy's demeanor in the halftime locker room. The Colts trailed 21-6.

"Anyone on the street or anyone who really doesn't know how it goes in the locker room, they would have said he was probably yelling, going crazy," Sanders said. "None of that. He came in and said, 'We know what we can do. We have 30 minutes left. Special teams is up. Set the tempo. Then we have defense up. Get out, set the tempo, three-and-out. We get offense on the field, we have to drive down, we have to score.' He already knew exactly what he was going to say. It took two minutes. 'All right? Ready, break.' Nobody jumped up and screamed and yelled at each other. Everybody was calm. It was like, 'OK, let's go out and do it."

Thirty-two second-half points later, the Colts were on their way to the Super Bowl. This year, though, the charge is to do it again.

"The more you win, the harder it is to win," Sanders said. "You have to keep working. The good thing is, it rubs off on the younger guys. Guys who come in and see it, they understand what we have going on, and the veteran guys show them the way. We study hard during the week, we prepare as much as we can, and on Sunday we're ready to go."

Said Dungy: "Our message is always to start out and do those things that we need to do, develop our team to be as good and solid as can be."

Dungy's voice was barely above a whisper.

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