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Defensive challenge

The New England defense may face its toughest challenge of the year this Sunday against the Colts number-two ranked offense.

It starts with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James, but it certainly doesn't end there. Make no mistake, the explosive Colts offense that ranks second in the NFL starts with its trio of superstars, but it also goes much deeper. That explosive variety and depth is the challenge the Patriots face this Sunday in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

Manning is having his best season in the NFL, completing 265-of-393 passes (67.4 percent) for 3,105 yards and 19 touchdowns with just 8 interceptions and a 98.8 passer rating. James has carried the ball 200 times for 735 yards and seven touchdowns while also adding 34 receptions for 188 yards. And the all-world wide out Harrison has 62 catches for 824 yards and seven touchdowns despite being slowed in recent weeks with a hamstring injury.

Add to those three weapons other productive options like tight ends Marcus Pollard (23 catches) and Dallas Clark (27 catches) and receivers Reggie Wayne (53 catches) and Troy Walters (26 catches), and you have an offense that would give any defensive coordinator nightmares.

But this New England defense is no group of slouches in its own right, especially a secondary that has made a living this season controlling opposing quarterbacks and passing attacks. New England leads the NFL in defensive passer rating (57.7) and fewest passing touchdowns allowed (6).

It would appear that either one of the two sides will be a bit exposed on Sunday or else it should be one heck of an offensive and defensive game of chess.

"If there is one word that I would use to describe the Colts it would be explosive," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "Going through all of their games, this is the type of team who they could be down by a touchdown one minute and three minutes later be up by two touchdowns."

Belichick believes this could be the ultimate test for his revamped secondary that has played so well to date this season.

"I think they have done a good job," Belichick said of his secondary through 11 games. "I think this is going to be our biggest test. Out of all the teams we have played in the passing game, I think this is a test. This is a real good quarterback. They have a real good system. They have real good receivers and tight ends and running backs, and they are very experienced in their offensive system. I think all the elements are in place there. They are playing at home, so the crowd noise will not be a factor for them offensively. I think this will be our biggest test across the board on defense."

Rookie safety Eugene Wilson acknowledged the fact that he and his teammates are facing a huge battle this Sunday. He believes that all starts with Manning.

"Right off the top, it's the quarterback," Wilson said. "He's just a real good quarterback. He reads defenses real well. He's an accurate passer. He and his receivers, Harrison especially, they are on the same page. They do things on the field that not all tandems can do.

"They've been doing real well this year and it is going to be a challenge, but it is something to look forward to."

And the New England defenders enter the game knowing that if they can come out on top against this offense they can hang with just about any team out there because it doesn't get much better than the Manning-led Colts.

Injury report

Aside from injuries to the team's top three receivers, the Patriots are suddenly a rather healthy football team. New England released a six-man injury list on Wednesday, while this week's opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, sport an injury list that includes 17 players.

For the Patriots safety Chris Akins (leg), wide receivers Deion Branch (leg), Troy Brown (leg) and David Givens (leg) and nose tackle Ted Washington (leg) are all listed as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady remains listed as probable with an arm injury that he has been playing with for most of the season.

Akins, Branch, Brown, Givens and Washington all sat out practice on Wednesday.

The Colts list safety Idrees Bashir (shoulder) and linebacker Jim Nelson (clavicle) as out for Sunday's game in Indianapolis. Tackle Tarik Glenn (knee) is doubtful. Safety Cory Bird (abdomen), tight end Marcus Pollard (knee), running back Detron Smith (knee), wide receiver Brandon Stokley (head) and wide receiver Troy Walters (hamstring) are listed as questionable. Tight end Dallas Clark (back), safety Jason Doering (ankle), cornerback Walt Harris (knee/shoulder/toe), wide receiver Marvin Harrison (hamstring), defensive tackle Montae Reagor (chest), running back Dominic Rhodes (knee/shoulder), cornerback Donald Strickland (knee/shoulder), wide receiver Terrence Wilkins (nose) and running back Ricky Williams (ankle) are all listed as probable.


The Patriots made a pair of minor moves late Tuesday, signing wide receiver Jamin Elliott to the practice squad and placing offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski on injured reserve. Elliott had been on the New England practice squad earlier this season and was then signed to the active roster for a game against the Cowboys. The 5-11, 195-pound wide out was released Nov. 22 and now rejoins the practice squad. Mruczkowski had been practicing with the Patriots in recent weeks after spending the first part of the season on the Reserve/Non-Football injury list with a leg injury the rookie free agent suffered prior to the start of training camp. The 6-2, 299-pound lineman is the seventh player the Patriots have placed on injured reserve this season. … Former Patriots offensive lineman Kenyatta Jones signed with the Washington Redskins. According to the Boston Globe he received a two-year deal for the veteran minimum with no bonus. … The team will be off for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday and will return to work preparing for the Colts on Friday morning at Gillette Stadium. … Count guard Damien Woody as one who is looking forward to tomorrow's holiday meal, although the 320-pounder promises not to overdue himself at the dinner table. "I told the wife to chill out, I can't be throwing down like I want to," Woody said. "I am going to have my food but I am not going to go all out. We don't need any guys bloated or anything like that. Trust me everybody will be ready to go come Sunday."

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