The Indianapolis Colts had two weeks to sit on their first loss of the season, a 44-13 thrashing at the Patriots hands. Surely when they boarded the bus after walking out of their cramped, dilapidated locker room at Foxboro Stadium, they were stunned and embarrassed.
If given the chance, Indy would have come back the Monday after to replay the game, feeling that out of 100 games with New England, it would win 99 times.
Now they get their second chance.
For the Patriots to repeat their best performance of the season, they will need to accomplish specific defensive goals and hope the bounces once again go their way.
First off, the Patriots defense cannot allow Indy to hit them for any big plays. The Colts offense is constantly starving for the quick strike and tends to grow impatient when it is taken away. The Patriots were successful in the first meeting in taking that option away and it paid off, but New England also did that last year in Foxborough only to watch quarterback Peyton Manning hook up with wideout Marvin Harrison for two deep scores in the rematch on the faster Indy turf.
The defense basically needs to ignore the play action fakes Manning utilizes and simply remain disciplined in the secondary. To do that, the front seven must handle running back Edgerrin James, which it did in the first meeting, but the lopsided score limited the Colts offensive options.
If the Patriots can prevent the big plays Indy loves, its next daunting task will be its red zone effectiveness. In fact, this will be the difference in the second meeting. Assuming the score isn't lopsided in New England's favor early, the Colts offense will be much tougher to stop. It is Bill Belichick's mission to make sure Manning isn't engineering quick drives so when the Colts penetrate the 20, the defense will have to bear down and keep the Colts out of the end zone. That formula proved successful when the team's met in 2000 in Foxborough as Indy dominated the clock, but failed to convert consistently in the red zone. The Patriots were able to take advantage and come away on top.
Finally, New England will have to ride its running game as it did back on Sept. 30 when it gained 177 ground yards led by Antowain Smith's 94. The Patriots offensive front rarely pushes anyone around, but it has had success over the last two seasons against Indy and it will need to continue that trend.
But all of that aside, the Patriots can bet that the Colts won't make nearly as many mistakes as they did in Week Three. After breaking down the game film, Colts Head Coach Jim Mora counted 11 dropped passes, including four by the usually reliable tight end Ken Dilger.
Those plays don't seem like much when they happen, but they add up when the offense doesn't move the chains and is forced off the field. They also change the down-and-distance situation of future plays and put more pressure on the offense to make a play. That is when the bigger mistakes happen, such as the interceptions.
This game will be a test for Mora and Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore because they must prove they can patiently attack Belichick's defense. If they hand the ball to James early and often, it could loosen up Belichick's scheme and open the opportunities for big plays. In the first meeting, James was not a big enough factor, but he should get the ball 30-plus times in this game and if he does, it will be tough day for New England. The Colts are 18-2 when James rushes for 100 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Colts defense should make inexperienced quarterback Tom Brady beat them. Brady is virtually untested after just three starts and Indy would be well served to dedicate an extra player in the box to defend the run.
With eight defenders in the box, Indy should be able to effectively handle the run, but will leave itself susceptible in the secondary and give Brady opportunities to make plays. The Patriots opened up the offense last week against San Diego with Terry Glenn back, but will surely focus on the running game against Indy's suspect front seven.
Players To Watch
Young defense key to Super hopes
As explosive and talented as the Indianapolis offense is, the Colts defense is inconsistent and raw.
There are eight new starters on the defensive side of the ball. Indy had its problems stopping the New England ground game in Week Three, and the defense needs to improve for the Colts to entertain hopes for the Super Bowl.
One area the defense is slowly improving in is the secondary. Rookie Idrees Bashir, drafted in the second round last April, has earned the starting nod at free safety, and his play has shown potential in the early going. The 6-2, 206-pounder out of Memphis is the second draft pick in two seasons added to the defensive backfield, joining cornerback David Macklin, a third-round pick a year ago.
Because Indianapolis is not especially strong in the front seven, there is a lot of pressure on Bashir, Macklin, cornerback Jeff Burris and strong safety Chad Cota to be on the ball at all times.
A strong, quick player who likes to be aggressive, Bashir learned early on at the pro level it is important to give a full effort every play. On one of his first tackle attempts on a screen play against Detroit in the preseason he got his bell rung.
"I learned in preseason that you've got to bring something with you when you come," Bashir told Colts.com. "I came up at [Detroit running back] Sedrick Irvin. I just kind of lunged at him. I came up kind of wobbling. That was a real learning point for me. Every play has to be 100 percent or you might not make the next play."
The Colts want Bashir to stick around. Through three games he had 18 tackles, including nine in the first meeting with New England. In three seasons at Memphis he had four interceptions, including one he returned 100-yards for a touchdown. He also had a 66-yard fumble recovery for a score.
Eye on the Game: Damien Woody
Two years ago Damien Woody was the young gun on the offensive line. As the team's first-round draft pick, he was the new center — the guy around whom the line of the future would be built.
Now in just his third season, Woody already has the longest tenure among the linemen in New England. He has been here the longest, and the pressure is on him to be as prepared as possible when game time approaches.
For this reason, Woody likes to hit the books one last time every Sunday when he arrives at the stadium. While he knows the offense after a week of meetings and practice, he always gives himself one more cram session.
"I try to make sure that I prepare myself mentally," Woody said. "I come in and go over the playbook and get one last reminder of what my assignments are. We all know the plays already, but it always helps me to take one last look at everything before it is go time."
Very much a laid back person off the field, Woody tries to preserve his energy on game day. He's not the type to get whipped into an outward pregame frenzy. Instead he tries to channel that energy mentally and then take his aggression out through his blocking assignments.
"I really don't do anything special as far as getting revved up for the game," Woody said. "While I am waiting, I think about being ready to go out there and hit somebody. That's all I do. That's what gets me ready."
There also is a definite attitude Woody and his fellow linemen try to take with them into the game. They want a physical game, and that's what they shoot for early on.
"We have to be able to go into each game and establish the line of scrimmage," Woody said. "We want to take control of the game and turn it into a dogfight."