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.
- Arabians win third straight County softball title It was a scenario Pendleton Heights had seen before. The game was scoreless late into the championship game of the Madison County softball tournament.
- Bulldogs rally past Eagles at Muller Kallen Brooks went 3-for-3 with two RBIs, including a walk-off double in the eighth inning, and Lapel rallied to defeat rival Frankton 3-2 on Saturday at Memorial Field.
- Eagles stop Lions to claim third place Frankton's Tia Sharp drove in three runs including the game-winner in the bottom of the sixth as the Eagles defeated Liberty Christian 11-1 here Saturday.
PH pushes across only run in 7th
After Frankton's Kyleigh Garner and Pendleton Heights' Bailey Benefiel battled one another to a standstill from the pitcher's circle for six innings, it took one mistake in the seventh to decide the outcome.
- Arabians sweep track titles again Beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures greeted the competitors at the Madison County track meet Friday at Madison-Grant. The Pendleton Heights boys and girls teams were looking to take the county for the third year in a row, but Anderson and Lapel had other ideas. It started off as a record-setting meet and finished with a bang as Pendleton was able to wrap up both titles. The girls held off a stiff challenge from Lapel to win 167.5-147, and the boys took the final event of the night to squeak out a 156.5-148.5 win over Lapel.
- Arabians clip Eagles, go for Muller repeat The competitive feeling at Pendleton Height’s Bill Stoudt Field quickly faded Friday during the semifinals of the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament. The Arabians once again took advantage of the opposing team’s generosity as Frankton pitchers gave up six walks and hit five batters, and Pendleton Heights took the 14-3 victory.
Arabians win County net title with 5-0 shutout
An intriguing battle awaited and there was no indication what the team scores would be. Considering the Frankton Eagles had home court advantage, the Pendleton Heights Lady Arabians came hungry for the Madison County tennis title. Pendleton aced a 5-0 win and came away with the crown.
- Indians scratch back into Muller final A young and inexperienced Anderson team again proved its mettle Friday in the semifinals of the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament. The Indians (2-3), playing without several expected starters to open the season, clawed out a 10-6 victory against Lapel (2-2) at Memorial Field to advance to the championship game for the 10th time.
- Elwood rolls past Liberty Christian While most people were aware that Elwood had 22 hits, 19 runs, 11 extra base hits and four home runs, most failed to notice that pitcher Tenasha Stephens tossed a no-hitter in the process.
Pendleton Heights, Frankton to meet for net title
Pendleton Heights and Frankton advanced to today's Madison County Championship title match after posting very different victories. The Lady Arabian tennis team advanced after defeating the Alexandria Tigers 4-1. For Frankton, it came down to a No. 1 singles tie-breaker to put away Lapel.
- More Sports Headlines