The Patriots are preparing to take on the Indianapolis Colts in this weekend's conference championship, which will decide who advances to the Super Bowl. Members of the local and national media were out in full force at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, and some were looking to supply the Colts with bulletin board material for this game. The rivalry between the Colts and Pats is certainly there, but the Patriots players and coachBill Belichick voiced nothing but respect for these Colts.
"We're down to four teams. It's an honor for us to be one of them playing in the AFC Championship game against a team that we have the utmost respect for in the Indianapolis Colts," said coach Belichick, shedding light on the fact that, at this point in the season, every team is good.
"They know us well and we have the utmost respect for them from the top of the organization, Jimmy [Irsay] to Bill Polian, (Head Coach) Tony Dungy and his staff and the team," he said. "We know them very well. They're a very good football team from top to bottom. They're well coached. They're well organized. They have a lot of great players. They play well in every phase of the game.
"They certainly deserve to be there. We won our wild card game, we won our divisional game on the road like they did, so I think both teams have earned their spot here, earned it with some good football and we're looking forward to playing in the championship game."
"[The rivalry] is fun for the players," explained quarterback Tom Brady. "You develop very much of a rapport with [the Colts]. We've played them every single year, sometimes twice a year, and this will be another one of those years. It feels like a division opponent, going back to the days when they were in our division."
The Colts left the AFC East prior to the 2002 season, but this will be the third time in four years that the teams have met in both the regular season and the playoffs. The Pats beat the Colts in the playoffs following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
"These games have counted for a lot, and this one is just as big as all the rest. So it's quite a rivalry," Brady said. "I know there is mutual respect on both sides. I know their players have a lot of respect for us. I know we have a lot of respect for their players and their coaches. It should be just one of those classic games."
Even though the Colts bucked the Pats 27-20 in Week 9 of the regular season, coach Belichick doesn't think that game will have much bearing this week.
"We know we've had a great history with this team, and it's gone in different cycles as to who has had the upper hand and how the games have gone and so forth and so on, but to me, I don't think really any of that makes any difference," he said. "It doesn't matter what happened this year, last year in some other game or in some other situation. What it comes down to is what's going to happen Sunday afternoon --these two teams and this group of players and coaches and how it all matches up."
"We try not to look backwards," echoed linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. "We know this is a whole new game, a whole new situation. They're playing a whole lot better right now. They present a lot of challenges like they always have, so it's going to be interesting to see how it turns out.
What does Banta-Cain remember from that Nov. 5 loss to the horseshoe-headed Colts?
"They out-played us, out-coached us. We didn't play that well," he said. "We're a lot different team now than we were then, and I think they're a lot different now. There's a lot of things that we have to prepare for. They're running the ball a lot better. Their defense is a lot better. Their special teams has been stepping up. We gotta play our best game."
It seems the Patriots will bring fresh slate and a lot of heart into this upcoming game. With luck and further consistency, they could find themselves in their fourth Super Bowl in six years.
"We always say if you don't stay humble, you will crumble," said Pro Bowl defensive endRichard Seymour.
Playoff Flu bluesThe Patriots released their first injury report of the week on Wednesday, and a number of players have come down with the Flu. With the AFC Championship fast approaching, Patriots multi-man Troy Brown is listed as "Questionable" with the Flu. The most seasoned Pats veteran, Brown broke the Patriots all-time receiving record earlier this season against the Colts. Now in his 14th season with the Pats, Brown's not only a go-to receiver for Brady, he also posses excellent skills as a defensive back. He's worked in coverage on the Patriots nickel package this season, though veteran Ray Mickens has stepped into that role quite nicely since joining the team in the first week of December.
Also, offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan and nose tackle Mike Wright are both listed as "Questionable" with the Flu. O'Callaghan, a rookie, started six games at the right tackle position as a solid fill-in for Nick Kaczur. And Wright spelled Vince Wilfork during the last three regular season games. Both have gotten regular reps when not starting, as well.
Quote of note:
"It seems like every commercial I see is a Peyton Manning commercial. There are an endless number of commercials with him." - Pats tight end Daniel Graham. … "No, I don't have a favorite," he said.
The Patriots held practice inside the Dana Farber Field House on Wednesday, wearing shorts/sweats, shells and helmets. The Flu kept Brown, O'Callaghan and Wright off the field during the portion of practice available to the media. Defensive end Ty Warren and safety Rodney Harrison were also nowhere to be seen, though David Thomas was wearing a black practice jersey to indicate he was the Practice Player of the Week leading up to the Chargers game.