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BENNER: Bad news hard to come by as Colts take a break

October 17, 2009

So here we are at the bye week (already?) of what is looking like another exceptional season for the Indianapolis Colts.

Don’t take it for granted. Remember the Rod Dowhower era? Or, more recently, last year’s start?

Nonetheless, the Horseshoes are unbeaten and, over the last three games, untested. What looked like it would be a challenging early grind has been handled with remarkable ease, especially the prime-time wins over Arizona and Tennessee—surprisingly winless though the Titans may be.

Tennessee is another example of how quickly things can turn. Again, don’t take it for granted. Just think of Titan Kyle Vanden Bosch making more direct contact with Peyton Manning’s knee.

Anyway, a three-game lead in the AFC South at the bye week is beyond anyone’s expectation.

The head-coaching transition from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell has been seamless. Indeed, Caldwell appears far more at ease on the sidelines than Dungy does on “Sunday Night Football.” Coordinator Larry Coyer, as hoped, has sprinkled some added spice on the defense. And the offense? Absolutely humming, save the occasional hiccup with the running game (and all those who don’t want to see the stretch play on third-and-short, raise your hands … thought so).

Love Donald Brown, by the way. Not to mention Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. What to do with Anthony Gonzales when he returns is a nice problem to have.

Gonzo’s is another injury that seems not to have mattered. No Bob Sanders? Sorry, bad example. The Colts are used to his being out, though they will be a better team when he returns. But no Kelvin Hayden? No sweat. Gary Brackett misses a couple of games? So what? Dwight Freeney limps off with a torn hamstring on a Sunday night in Miami, then sprints out of the tunnel into the starting lineup six days later in Indy. Remarkable.

Cornerbacks Jarraud Powers and Jacob Lacey? You really can’t tell the players without a program.

Punter and kickoff man Pat McAfee appears to be another draft-day find. At some point, he’s going to make a difference in a close game.

You search for reasons to be concerned. Adam Vinatieri’s status suddenly is in question and that causes a shudder. The loss of defensive tackle Ed Johnson raises eyebrows but, sadly, a second chance is a terrible thing to waste. Fret about the (lack of) quality of opponents thus far, but you can only dance with who’s on your card. And if the Colts go to hapless St. Louis thinking it’s a guaranteed win, they won’t. But this team keeps its focus. November then brings the improved 49ers, the mercurial Texans and the hated Patriots to Lucas Oil Stadium before a road game to Baltimore. By the end of the month, we should know.

Back to Manning. Two words: Ryan Leaf. Another reason not to take for granted this era that has descended upon our city.

And on a related note, while Peyton and his pals scattered across the country, so did Peyton’s Pals. Fourteen of them were off to Washington, D.C., for an all-expenses-paid trip courtesy of Manning’s PeyBack Foundation.

They are 11 to 16 years old, all coming from difficult life situations. Chosen by Child Advocates, they arrive from foster homes, group homes and other trying circumstances.

It’s the highlight of a year that includes monthly activities, according to Elizabeth Ellis, executive director of the PeyBack Foundation which, in addition to the Pals program, has doled out $3.6 million in grants during its 10 years in Indy, New Orleans and Tennessee.

Also upcoming is the distribution of 800 bags of groceries just before Thanksgiving and Manning’s party for a thousand children at The Children’s Museum.

“Even during the season,” says Ellis, “he knows everything that’s going on with the foundation.”

• Finally, good news and sad news. Good news that the Indiana Fever will be back for another year. But rest assured the city has been put on notice: Support them or lose them.

And sad news upon learning of the passing of the longtime outdoor editor of The Indianapolis Star, “Bayou Bill” Scifres. He was a genuine Hoosier who entertained us for years with not just his columns, but also colorful stories, poems and even songs drawn straight from the hinterlands of Indiana. Rest in peace, my friend.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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