Winless Colts are beat up

Published 6:44 pm Friday, August 25, 2006

The Indianapolis Colts practiced Thursday without two of their three projected starting linebackers — Gary Brackett and Gilbert Gardner.

Brackett hurt his knee Wednesday afternoon, and coach Tony Dungy said he did not expect the middle linebacker to play in Saturday night’s preseason game against the New Orleans Saints in Jackson, Miss.

Gardner sat out with an injured hand.

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“Gary, we’ll probably hold out,” Dungy said. “Gilbert will probably be able to play, we’ll have to see Saturday night. If there’s any doubt, we’ll hold him out.”

Backup quarterback Jim Sorgi also missed practice Wednesday but did not wear a sling around his injured throwing shoulder. Dungy called that a sign of progress, although Sorgi is not expected to play Saturday.

Joining practice for the first time was receiver Marc Boerigter, who was signed Wednesday by the Colts after being released by the Green Bay Packers. Boerigter previously played with the Kansas City Chiefs.

• Also, The Indianapolis Colts just want to win — even if it doesn’t count.

They enter Saturday night’s game against New Orleans on an eight-game preseason losing streak that has drawn questions from fans and media but little concern from players and coaches.

“You always go out to win, you never go out to lose,” defensive tackle Montae Reagor said. “We’re just trying to build momentum going into the season.”

nstead, the Colts find themselves chasing the franchise record for most consecutive preseason losses. They lost all seven preseason games in 1950, then disbanded for two years before losing their first preseason game in 1953 for eight straight.

With nine losses in their last 10 games, including eight straight, this Indy team has matched that. The Colts’ last preseason win was 30-17 over Buffalo on Aug. 28, 2004.

Judging from their recent success, though, the streak doesn’t seem to matter.

The Colts lost all five preseason games last year, and then won their first 13 regular-season games en route to clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

In 2004, the Colts went 2-2 and won their second straight AFC South title.

This year, they’ve started 0-2 for the third time since 1997. They made the playoffs the other two times, in 2000 and 2005.

Even two-time MVP Peyton Manning, an ardent football student, barely raises an eyebrow when asked if there’s a problem with losing “meaningless” games

“I think last year kind of proved how relative the preseason record can be to a real game,” he said this week.

Instead, coach Tony Dungy spends the late summer looking more at productivity or improvement than wins or losses.

The Colts have a simple approach — stay healthy, don’t overdo it with

known commodities and spend games evaluating those players fighting for jobs. In short, they prefer to let the starters do their work in practice and let backups take the blows in games.

Still, Dungy understands what preseason games can reveal. “I could tell a difference in the preseason in Pittsburgh when you were really humming and when you weren’t,” he said. “Usually when you have it really going, you’re winning. That’s how we were in Tampa. But I felt good last year with what we were getting done and how we were practicing, and I feel the same way this year.”

The contrast between August 2005 and August 2006, however, has been stark.

A year ago, fans worried Indy’s offense was out of sync when the starters struggled to score. Some attributed that to a trip to Japan and the jet lag that followed. This year, the starters have been crisp during their short stints. The starters scored on the opening drive in both of their first two games, then watched as backups for St. Louis and Seattle pulled out victories.

“Sometimes you sacrifice a play to get into a certain scheme or certain situations,” Manning said. “I know the coaches don’t like it (losing), and I don’t think it’s something anyone is real happy about or real proud about.”

But it’s not something to fret over, either.

After what Dungy called perhaps his first winless preseason ever, the Colts still led the league in scoring, were second in points allowed and fell two wins short of becoming the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to go undefeated in the regular season. The Dolphins were 3-3 that preseason. So much for early indicators.

“Things have not gone exactly the way we want them to, but the important thing is that you have to get comfortable with what you’re doing,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “When the regular season comes, we’ll be ready.”