Brady-Painter doesn't have same ring as Brady-Manning
When the NFL schedule came out last spring,
Sunday's matchup between the Patriots and Colts in Foxborough was
slated as a prime-time battle between two likely AFC playoff contenders
and their two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
However, Peyton Manning's neck injury has robbed
the rivalry of most of the interest in the latest installment. The game
was bumped from "Sunday Night Football" into a regular 1 p.m. EST
start. Indianapolis' 0-11 record prevents the game from being any sort
of measuring stick game for New England.
The Patriots, coming off a 38-20 dismissal of the
Eagles and another backup quarterback, Vince Young, head into the
meeting with the Colts mostly looking to maintain momentum on both
sides of the ball.
It's unlikely that Curtis Painter and the Colts'
punch-less offense will attack New England's questionable defense even
as much as Young and the Eagles' skills players did.
It's also unlikely that an Indianapolis defense
that ranks near the bottom of league in many categories is going to
slow down a Tom Brady-led attack that once again has its swagger back
and has scored 34 or more points in each of the last three weeks.
The Patriots simply are focused on trying to get
better on both sides of the ball at this point, at a time when Bill
Belichick's team does generally play its best football.
On defense, that means continuing to improve,
despite injuries, in key areas such as opponents' scoring, red zone and
On offense, it means trying to get as balanced as
possible both in terms of running and passing, as well as spreading the
ball around through the air.
"We have a long way to go. Eight (victories).
That's not going to win anything in the National Football League,"
The coach clearly wasn't ready to make any
long-term assessment of his team, its recent improvements or its
chances come January.
"I don't know anything about the big picture," he
said. "The big picture right now is Indianapolis. I'll leave that to
the experts. All the rest is a bunch of garbage."
LINEUP WATCH: The offensive
line has had a number of moving parts in recent weeks, and not
surprisingly, Tom Brady's protection has been a bit inconsistent. Left
tackle Matt Light limped off with an ankle injury Nov. 21 against the
Chiefs. Center Dan Connolly missed Sunday's win over Philadelphia due
to a groin issue. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left the Eagles game
with an ankle injury, forcing rookie Nate Solder once again into action
on the right side. In fact, other than guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, Brady's front five has been a work in progress all season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1997 -- The
last time the Patriots faced a Colts team that didn't have Peyton
Manning at quarterback prior to this Sunday's meeting with Curtis
Painter in Foxborough. This is also just the second game in the
Patriots-Colts rivalry since 2001 that wasn't a meeting of future Hall
of Famers Manning and Tom Brady. The other came when Matt Cassel filled
in for the injured Brady in Indianapolis in 2008.
--S Patrick Chung was inactive against the Eagles,
missing his third consecutive game due to a foot injury.
--LB Brandon Spikes missed his third straight game
with a knee injury.
--LB Dane Fletcher missed his fifth straight game
with a thumb injury.
--CB Devin McCourty was downgraded to out prior to
the Patriots flying to Philadelphia. He missed his second straight game
with a shoulder injury.
--WR Chad Ochocinco (hamstring) missed his first
game as a Patriot after popping up on the injury report and missing
--C Dan Connolly (groin) was downgraded to out
prior to New England's trip to Philadelphia. He missed a game for the
first time this season.
--QB Ryan Mallett was the only healthy player
among New England's seven day of game inactives against the Eagles.
--RT Sebastian Vollmer left the second half of New
England's win over the Eagles with an ankle injury and did not return.
He limped out of the visitors' locker room in Philadelphia wearing a
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