Posted: Monday December 19, 2005 1:24AM; Updated: Monday December 19, 2005 11:59AM
As long as Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots will always be in good hands.
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
Late in the second quarter, New England was driving again. From the Bucs' 33, approaching the two-minute warning, Brady faded back and again looked left. This time shallower. Simeon Rice steamed around left tackle and got his big left hand on Brady's facemask. Brady went to throw. Rice yanked. Brady's facemask just as he finished his throwing motion. Two yellow flags flew. The ball came out a little wobbly, but strong, and nestled into the arms of Tim Dwight, whoran to the 6. Gain of 27. And more: 15-yard facemask penalty on Rice. Half the distance to the goal. First and goal at the 3, and Corey Dillon ran it in on the next play.
Now, let's say 90 percent of the passers in football are playing the Bucs on this day. I say the vast majority of the quarterbacks in football have their team up 3-0 at the two-minute warning.
Not New England. Not with Brady. New England, 14-0.
"What we saw today,'' Ronde Barber said, "was a living legend.''
The AFC playoffs are going to be so compelling this year, with the Colts, Bengals and Patriots battling it out to get to Detroit. Indy will be favored and rightfully. But we're going to see some terrific games. CBS is damn lucky it has the AFC package. And the Patriots are even luckier to have Brady.
What a game. What a tremendous, hard-hitting, Colts-flaws-showing, '72-Dolphins-champagne-soaking game. San Diego 26, Indy 17. No more talk of the dream season for the Colts. For one day, it's dream time for the visitors.
"You dream about days like this,'' a euphoric Luis Castillo, the rookie defensive lineman for San Diego, told me by phone from Indianapolis.
Four observations from a table at Just Jake's, a Sunday Ticket pub down the street from the King ranch in New Jersey:
1. The Colts are still really, really good. This was just one game. I still think they'll win the Super Bowl, routing whomever the NFC throws at them.
2. The Colts can be beaten by two teams in the AFC. New England and San Diego. Maybe Cincinnati, but the Bengals will have to slug it out with Peyton Manning toe-to-toe without turning it over and I don't like their chances. And the Chargers probably have a 20 percent chance to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh closes with Cleveland on the road and at home against Detroit, and if the Steelers sweep, they're in (unless Jacksonville drops a game and creates a three-way tie for the wild card, which would favor the Chargers and Jags). San Diego has Kansas City on the road and Denver at home -- that means, most likely, that the Colts won't have to worry about the Chargers until they travel to San Diego in the 2007 season. (They don't meet next year, and I'm sure Peyton Manning will thank God for that.)
3. The Colts need to figure how to handle pressure better. The kind of pressure they couldn't handle in this game. Maybe offensive coordinator Tom Moore will fiddle with keeping a second tight end in the game or playing a blocking back. A team with outside pressure and a strong nose man, like San Diego and New England, will give this team trouble every time. Of course, there aren't many of those teams out there.
4. The two Chargers I feel good for are the rookies: Castillo and Shawne Merriman. Merriman: seven tackles, two sacks, one huge stop of Manning on fourth-and-goal when he tried to run around left end for the score. Castillo: four tackles, one sack, and it was a biggie, knocking the Colts out of field-goal range in the fourth quarter at a crucial time.
First, give credit to GM A.J. Smith for drafting these two guys in the first round last April. Merriman was supposed to be too stiff, or something like that, and Castillo ... well, you know about Castillo. He was the guy who took a steroid precursor to expedite his recovery from a nagging elbow injury.
I had the chance to talk to both of them by phone after the game, and Castillo said to me: "How about them rookies now, huh? The Chargers took some heat for drafting us and I hope it's paying off for them now. I think Shawne and I are happy we could come in here and contribute like we have.''
He and Merriman should be happy. They've combined for 12.5 sacks.
"I just wasn't going to be blocked today,'' Merriman said. "I'm not the type of guy to say a lot about what I'm going to do. I just go out and do it.''
And he did it. On the play when the Chargers knocked the Colts out of field-goal range late, Castillo said there's no way he should have ever gotten the sack. "I'm a decoy on that play,'' he said. "I'm supposed to occupy two blockers while two of our guys rush the passer. So I'm double-teamed and the play just came back to me. I got him. Really strange. Sometimes on the play you never expect to get a sack, you get one.''
I asked him how it felt to have sacked Manning on perhaps the play most responsible for knocking the Colts from perfection. "Oooh, woo, wow. What a day. How great,'' he said.