Patriots No Longer The Team To Beat
By Site Staff
The Patriots (4-3) have been the team to beat in the AFC, and all of football for that matter, for the better part of four seasons. They earned that billing, clearly, by winning three Super Bowls in four seasons.
But one common theme on the way to each of those Super Bowl titles was the clear upper hand New England held over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The team's first Super Bowl run in 2001 was ignited by a dominating win over the Colts in Week 3 that many believe laid the foundation for a late season run to its first world title.
Since that time, the Patriots are 6-0 against Indy, including a decisive win over the Colts in the 2003 AFC Championship game and another playoff win over Tony Dungy's favored visiting team in last year's postseason run.
All said, Manning is 2-10 in his career against the Patriots and over the last two seasons New England has ended the NFL MVP's hopes of leading his team to a Lombardi Trophy. It's been so bad at times for the guy who set a single season NFL record with 49 touchdowns passes a year ago that many have wondered if Patriots coach Bill Belichick has taken permanent residence inside Manning's mind.
That one-sided history lesson sets the backdrop for this week's highly anticipated Monday Night Football matchup between the Colts and Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The entire football world will be watching and one thing that is for sure is that one of two seven-game streaks will come to an end Monday night. The Colts, who have kicked off 2005 with a seven-game winning streak, have never won (0-7) with Manning at the helm in Foxborough. So either the Colts will be handed their first loss of the season, or Manning and Co. will finally get the Bill Belichick monkey off their collective back and firmly establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC and the favorite for home field throughout the postseason.
Coming off last weekend's disappointingly difficult 21-16 win over the Bills at home, Belichick knows his team must improve dramatically if it has a chance of continuing its dominance over what he says is the best team in football.
"They're 7-0. They're undefeated. Until somebody beats them, I don't see how you can say anybody is any better than them," Belichick said. "They haven't a lost the game. That's more than anybody else can say. It's on to Indianapolis, the best team in the league. It will be a big challenge for us this week. They do a lot of things well on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. So we know it will be a big challenge here."
That challenge will hinge on Belichick's defense, a group that has struggled mightily through the first seven games of 2005, giving up big plays and a allowing consistent running lanes on a weekly basis. It's a challenge that starts with Manning, the orchestrator of what has become a more balanced - almost run-heavy - Indy offense this season.
"He's a premier quarterback in the game," Belichick said of Manning. "The numbers and his performance and production speaks for itself. We have all the respect in the world for Manning and the players and the team that goes with them, their offensive line, their tight ends, their backs, their perimeter receivers. They're good. They're a good offense. They're well balanced. They do a lot of things well. It's always a big challenge to play against them. They have a good scheme. They're well coached. They present a lot of problems."
And considering every offense the Patriots have faced in 2005 has given the defending champs' defense its fair share of trouble, the now well-balanced offensive attack of Indy could swing the scale of power in this battle of AFC heavyweights. Or the back-to-back defending Super Bowl champs could put a stop to those writing what could be premature obituaries on the team's dynamic run of success.
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