While the Patriots played the Colts twice per season until realignment took effect last season, they have never faced the Tony Dungy-coached Colts. Dungy took over last season after being fired in Tampa Bay and has quickly re-built a defense that is much-improved over the version the Patriots scored 82 points against back in 2001. As is typically the case with Dungy's defenses, speed is its best asset.
"I think they have turned over quite a few players on defense since we played them two years ago," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "I would say that half the defense has turned over. They are playing a lot of young kids and the emphasis is speed. They don't have the biggest players in the league, but they have some of the fastest and the quickest. That's what they rely on -- their quickness, their vertical penetration, their stunting and their pursuit to the ball."
"We can't do the things we did in Houston and expect to win," guard Damien Woody said. "We have to bring our 'A' game. They have so much team speed and
Dwight Freeney is a special player. Tony Dungy's defenses are always a challenge
especially in a hostile environment."
The Patriots lost to Dungy's Buccaneers in Belichick's only head-to-head meeting with this week's opposing head coach, a 21-16 season opening defeat in 2000 that came in Belichick's first game as the Patriots head man.
LAST MINUTE HEROES: The Patriots have staged four fourth quarter comeback wins this season, all coming during the team's seven-game winning streak. "We don't make a lot of mistakes in the two-minute drill," left tackle Matt Light said. "We've shown we can handle the pressure."
COLTS NEVER OUT OF THE GAME: Earlier this season the Colts overcame the latest, largest deficit in NFL history when they rallied from 21 points down in the final four minutes to beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers in Tampa. Quarterback Peyton Manning has 15 career fourth quarter comebacks. So while the Patriots, like most teams, thrive while playing from ahead, they will never be able to rest against the Colts offense.
But consider that New England leads the NFL with 22 consecutive victories when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter. The last time New England lost a game it led in the fourth quarter was back on Dec. 24, 2000 when it led Miami 24-17 entering the final frame, but lost 27-24. Since then, the Patriots have won six games in which they trailed or were tied entering the fourth quarter. New England also has won 16 straight when leading at the half.
BRADY VS. THE COLTS: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's first career start came against the Colts back on Sept. 30, 2000 and he had a pedestrian 168 yards passing on 13-of-23 completions with no touchdowns or interceptions in a 44-13 win spurred on by a pair of defensive touchdowns. Three weeks later, on Oct. 21, 2001, Brady completed 16-of-20 passes for 202 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38-17 win at Indianapolis to go 2-0 against the Colts.
While Brady completed 80 percent of his passes against the Colts in that Oct. 21 win, wide receiver David Patten, who is now on injured reserve, stole the headlines while completing a rare trifecta that afternoon. Patten ran 29 yards for a touchdown on an end around, caught two touchdown passes including a franchise record 91-yarder and threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Troy Brown to become the first player since Walter Payton exactly 23 years to the day to run for, catch and throw for a touchdown in the same game.
MANNING VS. THE PATRIOTS: While Manning has been inconsistent against the Patriots, his fellow offensive stars have had tremendous production vs. New England. Running back Edgerrin James has rushed for 100 yards in four of six games against New England and has 616 total yards and two touchdowns in those games to go with 18 receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Harrison, meanwhile, has recorded 100 yards receiving in five of his last six meetings against New England and in 12 overall games against the Patriots, has 71 catches for 1,053 yards and eight touchdowns.
THE MAGIC FORMULA: The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a win if Kansas City wins or ties at San Diego, Denver loses at Oakland, Baltimore loses at home to San Francisco and Cincinnati loses at Pittsburgh.
THROUGH THE AIR: This matchup features two top 10 passing offenses with the Colts ranked No. 1 (277.2 ypg) and the Patriots eighth (228.4 ypg). The Patriots defense is ranked seventh while the Colts are 13th.
BY THE NUMBERS: 42 -- the number different starters the Patriots used
through their first 11 games. Players who have started for the Patriots have
missed 74 cumulative games with injuries, and five opening day starters are on
injured reserve. New England has used a different offensive starting lineup in
every game and only used the same defensive lineup back-to-back once (Weeks 11
and 12). Defensively, the Patriots have used eight different starting lineups.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're having a good season, but we stay focused and the Colts are the only thing we're thinking about. We don't care about anything beyond that." -- Left tackle Matt Light on the Patriots playoff prospects and ability to clinch this week under a long shot scenario.