Patriots-Colts has become the Ali-Frazier of NFL rivalries
The Patriots and Colts have plenty of history and battle again in Indy Sunday
New England is rolling and has won its last three games by a combined 121-24
Indianapolis is unbeaten and boasts a streak of 17 straight regular-season wins
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's like getting Ali-Frazier every year, sometimes twice per season. It is the NFL's 18-12 (Manning-Brady) Overture. It is Patriots at Colts and it is Sunday night in the new building we have come to know as Lucas Oil (Can Boyd) Stadium.
A couple of years ago, New England-Indianapolis was billed as the regular season Game of the Century. The Pats and Colts were both unbeaten and it represented the latest meeting of NFL unbeatens since the Buffalo All-Americans played the Akron Pros in mid-November in 1921. I think John Madden was in the broadcast booth for that one.
The 2007 Patriots beat the Colts in '07 and remained unbeaten until Peyton Manning's kid brother floated a pass over Ellis Hobbs and into the hands of Plaxico Burress (wonder whatever happened to that guy?) in Glendale, Arizona in Super Bowl XLII.
The Colts are the undefeated team this time around. Ravaged by injuries to its defensive unit, Indianapolis hung on to beat the Houston Texans, 20-17 on Sunday. The victory gave the Colts a 17-game regular-season winning streak, which is a franchise record and the fourth-longest in NFL history. The longest regular-season winning streak of course belongs to the Patriots. New England won 21 in a row between 2006 and 2008 before Tom Brady got hurt at the start of the '08 season. The Bradymen also won 18 in a row from 2003-2004. New England enjoyed victories over the Colts in both streaks.
The 2009 Patriots are not the chest-thumping, take-no-prisoners Pats of 2007, but they think they have enough to beat the Colts and improve to 7-2 in Indy on Sunday night. They have won their last three games by an aggregate 121-24.
Nobody expects a blowout this week.
"You can't go out there and play your B game, because you won't beat those guys,'' Brady said after throwing for 332 yards in Sunday's win over the Dolphins. "They're good. They can rush the passer. They cover. Obviously, they can score a lot of points. They run it, they throw it, they have very good special teams, so we've got to match them. We've got to do the same thing this year on the road, you know, we've had a couple good first halves and not so good of second halves, so we're going to need a four-quarter game.''
A four-quarter game. Ouch. The remark is a reminder of what happened to the 2006 Patriots when they played the AFC Championship Game in the old Hoosier Dome. The '06 Pats were 14-4 with playoff wins over the Jets and Chargers when they got to Indianapolis. They were on a mission to win a fourth Super Bowl in six seasons and it looked like they were on their way to XLI in Miami when they bolted to a 21-3 lead over the Colts. It was 21-6 at halftime.
And then the Patriots imploded. They surrendered 32 second half points and lost, 38-34. The Colts went on to win their only Super Bowl of the Manning Era.
New England responded the following year with its 16-0 season, running up scores and making enemies. And we all knew the seeds of perfection had been planted in the floor of the RCA Dome.
It was not the first time a Pats-Colts playoff game triggered events. After the Patriots thrashed the Colts, 20-3, in the 2004-2005 playoffs at Gillette Stadium -- a game in which Ty Law caught as many Manning passes (three) as Marvin Harrison -- Colts' GM Bill Polian petitioned the league to change rules regarding jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. The new rules of engagement came to be known as "The Patriot Act" just as today's strict guideline about hitting quarterbacks is "The Brady Rule.''
Polian hates the Patriots with the power of a thousand suns and the Krafts have been angry at the Colts since Adam Vinatieri signed with Indianapolis as a free agent. Bill Belichick grew up loving the Baltimore Colts, but spent a year mad at Tony Dungy when Dungy was critical of New England's Spygate caper. As for Brady and Manning? They are simply the game's top marquee players.
Any way you cut it (Remember Peyton's "Cut That Meat" commercial?) history is made when the Pats play the Colts. And they play a lot. Sunday's joust will be the 10th meeting of these teams in the last six seasons.
"We have so many games with them and so much history with this team the scouting report looks like a phone book,'' Belichick said last year.
Sounds a little like the old Raging Bull line when Jake Lamotta said, "I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times, it's amazing I didn't get diabetes.''
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. For more of his columns go here.
NFL Truth & Rumors