Erik Walden understands the impact of his mistake.
But he's going to have a hard time completely erasing the memory of the low point of his season.
With the Tennessee Titans driving late in the second quarter Nov. 14, Walden and opposing tight end Delanie Walker got into a scuffle following a play.
Walden tore Walker's helmet off during the altercation. When the Titan rushed back to challenge Walden, the Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker delivered a head butt.
Officials flagged Walden for unsportsmanlike conduct — the second in a string of three consecutive 15-yard penalties against the Colts — but he was not ejected from the game.
He didn't fare as well with the NFL's enforcement officials, who issued a fine and a one-game suspension. As a result, Walden watched from home as Indianapolis lost 40-11 last week at Arizona. And it gave him plenty of time to contemplate his situation.
"It cost me a game check, but most of all it cost me a game," he said earlier this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "They can keep the money. I just wanted to play and be with my brothers. Not being able to come to work, that's really what hurt the most. But you learn from it. You move on, and we moving on."
The next step just happens to be a rematch against the Titans today at Lucas Oil Stadium. And emotions are certain to be peaked.
A loss all-but eliminates Tennessee (5-6) from the AFC South championship race and would seriously hinder the team's chances in a wide-open wild-card race. But a win for the Titans would continue the recent downward spiral for Indianapolis (7-4) and raise more questions for a team once looked at as a serious Super Bowl contender.
The result should be a playoff-like atmosphere for the 1 p.m. kickoff, with both teams facing a defining moment to open the final month of the season.
In such a heated environment, is Walden afraid he'll be the victim of retaliation from Walker or one of his teammates?
"No, no," he said. "Not at all."
Walker had some strong words after the game, suggesting he wouldn't mind another go-around with the linebacker. But he backed off those comments last week and even went so far as to express regret the incident cost Walden a full game check.
That's not a sentiment likely to be shared by many Colts fans.
There was widespread skepticism during the offseason when the sixth-year journeyman was signed to a four-year, $16 million deal. Though he hasn't lived up to the star-caliber play those numbers might suggest, Walden has proven to be one of general manager Ryan Grigson's most consistent additions.
Until last week, he hadn't missed a game. And his 28 tackles and two sacks are on track with his production in the past two seasons. The only real red flag came with the head butt, and head coach Chuck Pagano believes he's seen the last of that behavior.
"I think when he addressed it himself right afterwards, I think we all understood and knew that he knew, just by his remarks, that you can't do that and you got to keep your poise and your composure no matter the situation, no matter the circumstances," Pagano said. "I think he learned his lesson."
The Colts certainly hope so.
Walden will play a key role in setting the edge to ensure that Tennessee running back Chris Johnson doesn't get to the outside and make big plays. The Titans jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter of the last contest after a pair of Johnson touchdown runs. But the speedy back was held out of the end zone the rest of the game and finished with 86 yards on 17 carries.
Containing his new nemesis will be of equal importance to Walden.
Walker caught 10 passes for 91 yards and one score in the first meeting. Walden will go head-to-head with him as a blocker and will be asked to jam him at the line of scrimmage in pass coverage. On occasion, he'll even be the primary pass defender against the rising tight end.
Walker has emerged as one of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite targets and has 44 catches for 449 yards and five touchdowns on the year.
Walden expects another hard-fought battle. But he plans to leave the extra-curricular activity out of the equation this time around.
"You never want to put yourself or your teammates in a position like that, especially when they're counting on me," Walden said. "That's one thing we hold highly of each other is being accountable. With that, I wasn't accountable. Like I said, you got to move on, and we'll make sure something like that never happens again."
Erik Walden understands the impact of his mistake.
- Breaking News
Skydiver, pilot treated after midair accident
A plane became entangled in the strings of a skydiver's parachute, sending both crashing into the ground near Tampa, Fla., with both the pilot and jumper hospitalized with minor injuries.
Why Malaysia Airlines jet might have disappeared
The disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet well into its flight Saturday morning over the South China Sea has led aviation experts to assume that whatever happened was quick and left the pilots no time to place a distress call.
Dispute erupts over school reform in New Jersey
More than three years after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg committed $100 million toward remaking Newark's struggling schools, the district is engulfed in a dispute over proposed large-scale teacher layoffs that's threatening to derail wider reform efforts.
Zirkle retakes lead in Iditarod in run to coast
A runner-up from the last two years and a four-time champion continued to play leapfrog Saturday at the head of the pack in the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
China-bound Malaysian jet vanishes with 239 aboard
Search and rescue crews across Southeast Asia scrambled on Saturday to find a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared from air traffic control screens over waters between Malaysia and Vietnam early that morning, leaving the fates of the 239 people aboard in doubt.
Russia reinforces military presence in Crimea
Dozens of military trucks transporting heavily armed soldiers rumbled over Crimea's rutted roads Saturday as Russia reinforced its armed presence on the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea.
Tax collection woes raise concern among Indiana leaders
A steady decline in tax collections is raising concerns among Indiana budget leaders about the overall fiscal health of the state.
Four couples sue Indiana over same-sex marriage ban
Four gay couples from southern Indiana sued the state Friday, seeking to force Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state and issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Judge: Sharper can't be held indefinitely in jail
A judge refused Friday to immediately release former NFL All-Pro safety Darren Sharper from jail in a Los Angeles rape case but said she would have to free him soon if charges aren't filed in a similar case in Louisiana.
Outpouring of affection for lonely Michigan boy
When a Michigan boy told his mother he didn't want an 11th birthday party because he had no friends to invite, she created a Facebook page to ask for well-wishes — and the response was overwhelming.
- More Breaking News Headlines
- Skydiver, pilot treated after midair accident