Archive for Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Colts-Patriots will take spotlight

Sure, there are other games this weekend, but New England-Indianapolis is the big one

January 11, 2005


The pregame billing will be Peyton Manning vs. the Patriots, a team that has won the last five meetings against the NFL's two-time MVP and the Colts.

The outcome might depend on Indianapolis' improved defense.

Yes, on Sunday Randy Moss will be in Philadelphia for the Vikings' game at the Eagles. If Terrell Owens were healthy, the playoffs hype would center on which of the NFL's two most talented showoffs would be more outrageous.

But even if Owens weren't sidelined, the NFL game of the weekend would be the final one -- late Sunday, when Manning and the Colts face the team that has beaten and befuddled him five straight times. In those games, Manning has thrown just nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions, 40 fewer TDs than he had in 16 games this season but just one fewer pick.

The more relevant statistic, though, might have to do with the Colts' D.

In the first eight games this season, it allowed 206 points, including 45 in a loss to Kansas City and 28 in a win over Minnesota. In the next eight games, it allowed 145, including 33 in a meaningless final-week loss to Denver in which subs played a good portion of the game.

How much did that mean?

In the Colts' 49-24 rout of the Broncos on Sunday, Denver had 338 total yards for the game, but just 103 in the first half when the Colts built a 35-3 lead.

"I felt we were dominating at times in every area," said defensive end Dwight Freeney, the only marquee player on a defense built mostly from spare parts. That's because the offense takes up more than 70 percent of team's salary cap, the most lopsided proportion in the NFL.

Indianapolis nearly beat New England on the season's opening night but lost, 27-24, because Manning threw an interception in the end zone on the Colts' first possession and then was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the final one. That sack forced Mike Vanderjagt to try a 48-yard field goal to tie the game, and he missed.

New England cornerback Asante Samuel (22) breaks up a pass intended
for Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne in a game earlier this
season. The Patriots beat the Colts on Sept. 9 in Foxboro, Mass.,
and the two teams will play again there Sunday.

New England cornerback Asante Samuel (22) breaks up a pass intended for Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne in a game earlier this season. The Patriots beat the Colts on Sept. 9 in Foxboro, Mass., and the two teams will play again there Sunday.

Those plays also are indicative of what the Colts will face.

Tedy Bruschi had the interception; Willie McGinest had the sack.

Those two along with Richard Seymour are the most frequent playmakers on a team that always seems to make them at the right time. That's why New England has won two of the last three Super Bowls and it's why they won a record 21 straight games during the last two seasons.

Yes, it will be colder Sunday than it was Sept. 8, when that Week 1 game was played.

But there are two reasons the Colts are underdogs by only 2 1/2 points, less than the oddsmakers give for home-field advantage:

1. The new rules interpretation that makes things harder on defensive backs stemmed from last season's AFC title game, when the Patriots banged and bumped Manning's receivers all over the field. It doesn't help New England that starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole are out for the season because of injuries.

2. The improved Indianapolis defense.

  • Quick takes: For the first time ever, three of the four games on wild-card weekend were won by the visitors.

There probably won't be a repeat next weekend, even if Indianapolis wins.

St. Louis might have the best shot at an upset, playing at Atlanta, which beat the Rams, 34-17, in Week 2. The Rams get to run on the sort of fast field they like at the Georgia Dome, Marc Bulger is playing well, and Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald give him four legitimate targets -- Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are the others -- if the game gets wide open.

But don't count on the Jets to upset Pittsburgh, or the Vikings to win in Philadelphia.

The Steelers couldn't even lose when they tried -- playing backups in Buffalo with the Bills fighting for a playoff spot. Pittsburgh has won 14 straight games and dominated the Jets in the first meeting: That was 17-6, but it wasn't really that close.

The Vikings have the weapons to stay with the Eagles.

But Moss is still limping, and Philadelphia's secondary has three Pro Bowlers: cornerback Lito Sheppard and safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis. In fact, Al Harris, Green Bay's best corner, was traded to the Packers by the Eagles because they didn't need him.

While Owens is out, Brian Westbrook still is a playmaker on offense after missing last season's playoffs.

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