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Patriots Notebook: Manning facing final hurdle

Foxborough, Mass. - Peyton Manning realizes his difficulties against the New England Patriots. As the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts could probably attest, the issue is front and center as his team prepares to face the Patriots in Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff game.

Finding success against the Patriots has been one of the few stumbling blocks of Manning's enormously successful seven NFL seasons. On the heels of one of the most prolific seasons by any quarterback in NFL history, Manning is faced with one of the last hurdles of his professional career - advancing past the Patriots in the AFC Playoffs. The Colts have a 2-9 overall record against the Patriots with Manning at the helm, losing five of the last six meetings since Bill Belichick arrived in New England.

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]()"I can't argue with what's happened in the past, but I really don't dwell on it a whole lot," Manning said. "There's really not much of a point in talking about last year's game or the game earlier this year or year's past. But there's no question, New England has been the dominant team of the pats three years and they're doing it again this year. It's a different season for both teams. It's such a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-league, I'm pretty sure it will be a great ballgame."

Manning, who said he wouldn't revisit game film of recent match ups between the Colts and Patriots, has had both good and bad performances in the last four games against the Patriots, with all resulting in losses. In last year's AFC Championship game, he completed 29-of-48 passes for 278 yards, with one touchdown and four interceptions as the Colts come up short in a 24-14 loss. Most recently, he passed for 256 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the 2004 season-opener, but the Colts' three turnovers were too much to overcome in a 24-27 loss.

Still, he isn't putting a lot of stock in what happened in previous games. In his mind, Sunday's game will stand on its own merits.

"It doesn't have a whole lot to do with what happened in a particular game," Manning said. "Our record up there is not good, but whoever executes the best, whoever makes the most plays, whoever protects the ball better is probably going to win the game this Sunday. In the years past, New England has done that. We haven't played all that well, but they have caused that. I made the comment that I didn't play well in that game last year but a lot of that was caused by what New England did. All of the credit they have gotten they deserve. They can make you make mistakes."

Compounding the challenge facing Manning is the notion the Colts can't win on the road in New England, having lost the last five contests. Despite playing all of their home games in the RCA Dome, Manning said playing outdoors doesn't put the Colts at a distinct disadvantage.

"People make a big deal out of that," Manning said. "It's something that we don't really talk about. I still think it just depends on who is playing the best on that particular Sunday. Whether you're playing at home or away or in a dome or in weather, or what not. Whoever plays the best on that Sunday usually wins. They always play well there. They truly know how to defend their home turf, and that's a real credit to them."

Manning said being left on the doorstep of the Super Bowl last season has peaked the Colts' desire in this year's playoffs.

"That's what every player wants to do," Manning said. "We have kind of knocked on the door in years past and just haven't quite gotten there. With some teams and some players, they kind of feel sorry themselves with what happened the year before and don't bounce back the next season. They miss the playoffs and sit there feeling sorry for themselves again. The one thing we have done is sort of respond the following year and try to give ourselves another opportunity. No question, last year was a disappointing ending, but I am proud of the way we have bounced back. I am also proud of how we have bounced back after the opening day loss this season."

Harrison At MVP Level?Count Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy as one who believes the Patriots Rodney Harrison is among the elite safeties in the NFL. Harrison, who tied his career high with 138 total tackles to lead the Patriots for the second consecutive season, was not named to the Pro Bowl but is among Dungy's most valuable players for his production in the Patriots injury-depleted secondary this season. Harrison was one of four defensive players - and the only defensive back - to start all 16 games this season.

"I was asked this about Peyton Manning and how I felt about him being named the most valuable player, and when you look at what they've done and what he's had to do - not only play well but play with so many different guys and so many young guys - I'm not so sure he hasn't been the most valuable player in the NFL," Dungy said. "They've done a great job and won 14 games and he's been the one constant back there. He's done a great job and had an outstanding year."

Vanderjagt FeedbackBefore the story surrounding the comments made by Mike Vanderjagt is officially be put to rest, Dungy and Manning both answered questions about the Colts' kicker Wednesday. Dungy, who said bulletin board material is overrated, believes that neither team needs the added incentive talk can provide heading into the game. He said he spoke with Vanderjagt regarding the comments.

"We talked about it, and he told me what happened," Dungy said. "There were some questions asked on the TV show he was on, and that's how he responded. Does he think we're going to win? Yes. Is he looking forward to it? Yes. He's a confident guy. I'm glad he is, and I'm glad he's on our team."

Added Manning: "We have no room to talk. They've dominated us for the past number of years. They're the World Champions. We have an opportunity, that's all we have. Certainly, it's pretty well-documented the respect I have for the team, as do the rest of our players."

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]()Injury Report: Patriots List Grows ShortBy every indication, the bye the Patriots earned through the first round of the AFC playoffs had a considerable impact on the health of the team. The Patriots released the first official injury report of the week Wednesday, which went from 15 players the final week of the regular season to just four this week. The biggest questions for the Patriots surround Pro Bowl defensive endRichard Seymour**, who is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury after missing the season finale against San Francisco. Seymour, who was injured during the second quarter against the New York Jets on December 26, was not present in the Patriots locker room during the media access period for the second straight day.

The Patriots also listed running back Kevin Faulk (knee) and linebackers Matt Chatham (hamstring) and Eric Alexander (ankle) as questionable. This is the first time Alexander, a special teams player, has appeared on the injury report this season. The team reported that all four players missed a portion of team practice Wednesday.

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]()Quick Hits* Belichick held his usual 10:45 a.m. press conference in the media workroom, followed by media access in the Patriots locker room. ... There was a large media crowd contingent Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, includingChris BermanandKenny Maynefrom ESPN among the national media. ... Manning and Dungy held conference calls Wednesday with the New England media from roughly 11:45 a.m. to around 12:30 p.m. Audio versions of the conference calls can be heard on Patriots.com. ... CornerbackTyrone Poole, on the injured reserve, made a brief appearance in the locker room. ... LinebackersRosevelt Colvin,Tedy BruschiandMike Vrabel, along with defensive endTy Warren, tight endDaniel Graham, kickerAdam Vinatieriand safetiesRodney HarrisonandEugene Wilson, were among the Patriots who spoke with the media. ... Offensive linemenMatt LightandDan Koppenpulled a successful "silly-string" attack on Wilson while he was answering questions from the media. ... The Colts practiced indoors Wednesday due to wet field conditions, but left the doors of the facility open to get it "as cold as we can," according to Dungy. The Patriots also practiced indoors Wednesday. ... Dungy noted that Vinatieri reminds him of kickerGary Andersonduring his days with Pittsburgh. "It doesn't matter what the situation is, he kicks the same. That's what you want out of a kicker. I think he's special. Being able to make those big kicks in playoff games, that's what it's all about, and he's done that as well as anybody probably in the history of the league." ... Belichick called linebackerWillie McGinest, who led the Patriots with 9.5 sacks this season, one of the hardest worker's on the team. "He worked hard in the offseason. He's been really consistent all year. He's just been a solid player for us the entire season, in every phase of the game. It's good to see him have that type of success this year." ... A bold prediction? The Colts' official website had AFC Championship apparel available for purchase for a brief period Wednesday afternoon before the item was removed from the team's pro shop. Before the end of the day, the story was already brought up on *The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio.

Frank Tadych is a reporter for Patriots.com. He can be reached at *FrankT@patriots.com.*

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