"It was very competitive," Belichick said of the first meeting. "One yard separated winning from losing. You can't get closer than that. We're expecting another game that goes down to the wire."
Indianapolis is looking to deliver payback to New England just as it did to Denver when it avenged a Week 16 loss by blowing the Broncos off the field, 41-10, in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Indianapolis trailed New England 31-10 in the second half of that game, but Tom Brady tossed a pair of interceptions in the last six minutes of the third quarter and Indy turned both of those into touchdowns to move with seven at 31-24. The Colts scored a third straight touchdown on its next possession to tie the game with 10:21 left to go, but a 67-yard Bethel Johnson kickoff return set up a Tom Brady-to-Deion Branch 13-yard touchdown pass as New England re-took the lead.
Kevin Faulk's fumble on the Patriots next possession at his own 11-yard line set up a Colts field goal and the final second drama that eventually ensued. ...
The Patriots defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL this year, but in matchups against what many believe to be the top quarterbacks in the league, the results were mixed. Drew Bledsoe and the Bills put up 31 points in the season opener. Steve McNair's Titans scored 30 against New England on Oct. 5 and Manning's Colts hung 34 on the Patriots on Nov. 30.
New England played well against Donovan McNabb in a 31-10 win at Philly in Week 2, intercepted Kerry Collins four times in Week 6 before the Giants had quit and intercepted Chad Pennington five times in Week 16. But the teams they shut down this season were guided by the likes of Jay Fiedler, Kelly Holcomb, Danny Kanell, Quincy Carter and Tony Banks -- none of whom are confused with the other top quarterbacks mentioned above.
In addition to his 67-yard kickoff return, wide receiver Bethel Johnson also returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown in the first meeting with Indianapolis. Johnson led the AFC with a 28.9 kickoff return average. The Colts also allowed a 92-yard kickoff return for a score to the Chiefs Dante Hall last weekend, their third kickoff return for a score allowed this season. ...
The Patriots have scored 38 or more points against Indianapolis each of the last three times the teams have played. New England has also scored 20 or more points against the Colts in 12 of the last 13 meetings with Indy and is 11-2 in those games.
This weekend is the seventh home playoff game in Patriots history and New England is 5-1 in the previous six. It is the second time New England has hosted the AFC Championship game. It advanced to Super Bowl XXXI with a 20-6 win over the Jaguars at Foxboro Stadium back in January of 1997. The Patriots are an undefeated 3-0 in conference championship games since the Super Bowl era began following the 1966 season. They won the AFC title at Pittsburgh in 2001, at home against the Jags in 1996 and at Miami in 1985. With a win over the Colts, New England would own the most championship game wins without a loss of any NFL team in the Super Bowl era.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 15 teams have advanced to the conference championship with a 15-2 or better record. Of those, seven went on to win the Super Bowl, four won the conference championship, but lost in the Super Bowl and four lost the conference championship game. The top seeds in each conference have only faced off in the Super Bowl twice since the six-seed format in each conference was introduced in 1990. In 1991, Buffalo played Washington and in 1993, the Bills played Dallas. It hasn't happened in any of the last nine seasons.
Including last week's 17-14 win over the Titans, the Patriots allowed just six touchdowns at home this season. They allowed four to the Colts in Indianapolis back on Nov. 30. The Patriots defense recorded three shutouts this season and all three were at home and they went four straight games without allowing a touchdown at home to become the first team since the 1938 NFL Champion New York Giants to keep their opponents out of the end zone in four consecutive home games within one season. The Patriots went a span of 62 possessions without allowing a touchdown at home, which covered 19 quarters.
With a win this weekend, the Patriots would become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to win 14 straight games within one season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 54.9
The passer rating of opposing quarterbacks in nine games against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in 2003
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"You have to have an awareness of what they're trying to do. They try to hit the weak points of your defense. Disguising is important, but more important is covering your responsibility within the defense." -- Bill Belichick on defending the Colts high-powered offensive attack.