Numbers Aside, Manning Still One Of The Best

Don't let the statistics fool you, Peyton Manning is just as dangerous as always. The Patriots aren't buying the hype that something is wrong in Indy, they're expecting a typical Colts -Patriots grudge match yet again.

The numbers suggest Peyton Manning isn't the same player he was two, maybe three, years ago when the Indianapolis Colts were the envy of teams across the league for their offensive prowess.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't buying it.

Asked if Manning is as dangerous as he's ever been, Belichick said, "He sure is."

"He does everything well," Belichick added. "He makes all the throws. He is smart. He reads coverages extremely well. He is accurate with the ball. He is mobile enough in the pocket to buy time. He really doesn't have any weaknesses."

Well, maybe except for that bothersome left knee, which Manning had surgically repaired twice during the offseason, including one final procedure two weeks before the team's opener against Chicago. Manning has only completed 61.1 percent of his passes, which, if it stands, would be the lowest number of his career, and has only thrown 10 touchdowns through seven games. Last year, he had 13 at this point and finished the season with 31.

To the naked eye, Manning has lacked the same mobility due to the knee injury and has not had as much zip on the ball as he's had in the past, but Belichick doesn't believe the offseason surgery is a valid excuse for the two-time MVP's struggles.

"If I'm not mistaken he hasn't shown up on the injury report all year, but maybe one day at the beginning of the season," Belichick said. "I am not really sure what injuries you are talking about but he hasn't been listed on the injury report all year.

"He looked pretty good to me. I don't think he is injured. He hasn't been on the injury report, so I am assuming he is not hurt."

We'll find out Sunday. As for the Patriots, they need to come up with a way to stop the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who has had mixed success against New England throughout his career. For years, Manning couldn't solve Belichick's defense, but he finally broke through in 2005 and has won three of his last four against the Patriots.

With injuries in the secondary, the Patriots have two options -- either rush Manning with reckless abandon and hope they reach him in time, or take their chances with extra defensive backs in coverage in hopes they'll be able to cover Indianapolis' receivers.

Forget that 3-4 record or Manning's numbers. Belichick isn't buying into the Colts' demise just yet.

"When I look at them I see a very explosive football team," he said. "Look at the last six minutes of the Houston game, look at the first quarter of the Baltimore game -- you see plenty of good football from them and plenty of explosive football.

"That's what worries us and that's what we have to prepare for. It really isn't about how they did against Tennessee or how Tennessee did against them. It is about how we do against them and (how) they do against us. Each game is its own matchup -- its own entity. We have had some great matchups against them in the past. We have a lot of respect for their football team and their organization. We know we are going to have to play our best game out there and that is what we are going to try to do this week."


--Last year's showdown against Indianapolis at the RCA Dome was an epic meeting between two undefeated teams with seven or more wins, marking the first time that had happened in the 88-year history of the NFL. The Patriots rallied with 14 points in the fourth quarter to escape with a 24-20 win.

--Colts quarterback Peyton Manning lost 10 of his first 12 games against the Patriots, including six in a row against coach Bill Belichick, until a three-touchdown performance in November of 2005 in which the Colts cruised to a 40-21 win. Manning eventually won three in a row against New England until last year's loss.

--Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork met with commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday to discuss a potential fine regarding a late hit against Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler in which Wilfork struck him in the helmet with his elbow.

According to published reports, Wilfork will not be fined and he is encouraged after speaking with Goodell.

"The meeting was productive," Wilfork said. "I think both sides were happy. I got a chance for him to hear my side of my story and how I approach the game. I got a chance to hear what he had to say about the whole situation of my past history and playing football and all that good stuff. I think we both left pretty happy."

--The Colts are anticipating the return of running back Joseph Addai and safety Bob Sanders, which should help improve their numbers in the running game on both sides of the ball.

"Sanders is a good player. There is no doubt about it. He is a great player -- MVP in the league," Belichick said. "I think they have played very well on defense. We have a lot of respect for (Sanders) as a player, too. It just gives them another guy."

--The Patriots have also had a hard time covering Colts tight end Dallas Clark -- even with safety Rodney Harrison in the lineup. Now that Harrison is done for the year, someone else will be expected to pick up the slack on Sunday.

"In the course of playing good team defense, there will be a lot of different people that will have a lot of different responsibilities all the way through the course of the game," Belichick said. "We will have to hold up all the way across the board. It will be a challenge from sideline to sideline."

--Even with three losses in their last four games against Indianapolis, the Patriots have enjoyed recent success against their former division rivals with a 15-5 record since 1996. The Colts played in the AFC East from 1970 to 2001 and the Patriots' .750 winning percentage against Indianapolis ties their mark against Buffalo for the franchise's best record against any team since 1996.

--With Sunday's win, the Patriots are now 24-4 against first-team visitors at Gillette Stadium. Arizona will make its Gillette debut on Dec. 21 and the remaining two teams, Atlanta and Carolina, will visit next season. The Patriots have also won 20 of their last 21 against first-time visitors.

Inside The Numbers: 15 -- Receiving yards Kevin Faulk needs to reach 3,000 for his career and become the 14th player in franchise history to do so in a Patriots uniform.

They Said It: "We have had so many games with them and so much history with this team, the scouting report looks like a phone book." -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick, on preparing for a familiar opponent such as Indianapolis.

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