The routine business is finished. Now it's time for a game for the ages. The 8-0 Patriots are heading to Indy to take on the 7-0 Colts on Sunday. An early November matchup like nothing the NFL has ever seen. Right?
The routine business is finished.
Now it's time for a game for the ages. The 8-0 Patriots are heading to Indy to take on the 7-0 Colts on Sunday. An early November matchup like nothing the NFL has ever seen. Right?
“It's just another game on the schedule for us,” deadpanned Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins.
Just another game? The Elias Sports Bureau, not to mention every football fan in the nation, begs to differ. The stat gurus note that this is the first time in the league's 88-year history that two teams undefeated after at least seven games have met.
Mankins is still unmoved.
“It's too long a season,” he said. “In the playoffs maybe, but right now it's just another regular-season game. We're trying to win it, and hopefully we'll win every game.
“There'll be a lot of hype,” conceded Mankins, “but I'm sure Indy's taking it the same way, as just a regular-season game. You do your best to win those games. We'll do our best and they'll do their best. They have a good coach and we have a good coach. There's a lot of good players on both sides.”
There's no doubting that. The Patriots have been the talk of the football world for the past two months, rolling to an 8-0 start by steamrolling every team they've faced.
They've piled up 331 points so far, while allowing just
127. And they enter this showdown fresh off a 52-7 dismantling of Washington on Sunday.
But the Colts aren't exactly slouches either. They're 7-0, having outscored their opponents 224-102. And they also happen to be the reigning Super Bowl champs, having knocked off the Pats in the AFC championship game along the way.
“Obviously they're a great team,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They've won 12 in a row. They've beat us three straight, so there's no better team in football than the Indianapolis Colts. It will be a huge challenge for us up there.”
The oddsmakers disagree, installing the Pats as a rare road favorite by a 4-point margin. These Patriots don't give up the underdog role easily though, no matter what the numbers say.
“In our mind, they're still king of the mountain,” said Pats fullback Heath Evans. “They've had their stretch of success and until somebody does something about it, they've got to be handed the title of the best team in the league.”
It's nothing new for these two rivals to meet with that mythical title on the line. Their last clash came with a Super Bowl berth at stake in January, while the Pats beat Indy in the playoffs en route to their last two championships in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
“They are always meaningful games when you play them, that's the way it seems the last bunch of times we've played them,” said Pats quarterback Tom Brady. “We know it's going to take our best effort. We know you can't make a lot of mistakes against these guys.
“When you turn the ball over against the Colts it's usually seven points. When you punt it to them it's usually seven points. You just have to find ways to be productive and be efficient and not turn the ball over,” added Brady, who has tossed just two interceptions against 30 touchdowns so far this season. “I'm happy we've got seven days to prepare because I think we're going to need each and every hour of that week.”
And everyone else will need every minute to put the hype machine into full production mode.
The Colts, however, are taking a slightly different approach. Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy gave his players yesterday and today off, the first back-to-back days off in a non-bye week the Colts have had all season.
He's trying to shelter his squad from some of the expected media storm, but that might be a futile gesture.
“I'm sure it's going to be crazy,” said Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. “Playoff atmosphere, I guess. The media hypes it up so much. Even though we'll probably see New England twice anyway. ... Who knows what will happen? No one knows.”
It's a good guess that New England and Indianapolis are destined to meet more than once this season. Sunday's game has huge implications as it could determine home-field advantage for their next battle in the playoffs. Last year, the Colts rallied in the second half in the RCA Dome to knock out the Pats in the AFC title game, a defeat not even Mankins will downplay.
“It was motivation for the whole season I think,” said Mankins of last year's loss. “For the offseason, working out, going into training camp, making everyone want to make this a special season.”
It's been a special season for both clubs, but only one can continue its unbeaten trek beyond this week. Which is why the hoopla surrounding this matchup will exceed anything ever seen in a regular-season matchup.
“Everybody's been talking about this game for a long time, except us. Now it's safe to talk about it,” said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning after his club beat Carolina 31-7 on Sunday. “It will be good to come back at home. We've been on the road for two games in a row. The Patriots are playing great. It's well-documented what we think of them as an organization.”
Even the Red Sox accommodated the football gods this week, completing their World Series sweep of the Rockies Sunday night so the sporting world could focus all of its attention on this gridiron grudge match.
“The Red Sox, that was a pretty impressive performance by them too,” said Belichick yesterday. “I don't want to overlook that. Terry (Francona), eight straight World Series wins - that's awesome. (It was a) great day for the Red Sox last night and all of the Boston sports fans.”
Now it's up to the Pats to deliver another great day on Sunday.
Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the Daily News. he can be reached at 508-626-4405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.