Colts, Pats make arguments for decade’s best team

Let the debate begin.

A couple of weeks ago, Colts tight end Jacob Tamme was watching

the Patriots play on television when he saw a surprising graphic

pop up. It said New England had won more games over the last decade

than any team in the NFL.

”I thought WE had that record,” Tamme said Wednesday with a

smile.

Technically, he’s right.

NFL spokesman Corry Rush confirmed that official NFL stats only

count regular-season numbers, meaning Indianapolis’ 115

regular-season victories from 2000-09 are considered the most in

any decade in league history. New England, however, prefers to

count postseason games – the most meaningful of all – and believes

it had more overall wins (133 to the Colts’ 130) during the last

decade.

Yes, they’re merely numbers, but they do demonstrate how tricky

it can be to define success in today’s NFL – and how heated this

rivalry between former division foes can get. It resumes Sunday at

New England.

”That’s what makes it fun, and I think that’s why both teams

respect each other so much,” said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, one

of only two players on either team’s current roster who has been

with both clubs. ”But I don’t think that’s really important unless

you’re sitting around a campfire drinking a beer.”

Judging by the ultimate measuring stick, it’s no contest. New

England went 3-1 in Super Bowls during the last decade compared

with 1-1 for the Colts.

If, however, you prefer consistency, well, things get a little

more complex.

Indy (6-3) has a record seven straight 12-win seasons, it won 23

straight regular-season games – breaking New England’s record – and

has missed the playoffs only once since 2000. New England missed

the playoffs three times during that span, though the Pats do own

one more division title (seven) than the Colts and have the NFL’s

only undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

And you can forget about trying to persuade fans or officials in

the respective organizations to concede defeat.

Last December, after the Colts pulled their starters early

against the New York Jets in a game that ended Indy’s pursuit of

perfection, team president Bill Polian explained that the Colts had

done it partly because they had already achieved two of the records

they wanted most – longest winning streak and victories in a

decade.

It didn’t take the Pats (7-2) long to argue they held that

mark.

”I didn’t know that, but they definitely have an argument,”

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ”But to me, who really

cares? When you’re retired, you can both say, ‘We had a great

tenure.”’

The debate goes deeper than numbers.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two of the game’s elite

quarterbacks, and fans and teammates find themselves in opposite

corners, too.

Manning has a record four MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring.

Brady has three Super Bowl rings and one MVP.

Not surprisingly, teammates line up in the same opposite corners

as the fans.

But as the two teams renew their annual November rivalry in

Foxborough, Mass., they don’t have time to think about the historic

implications.

It’s the eighth consecutive season the teams have met in the

regular season and the fifth straight year they’ve played in

November. They’ve also met in the AFC playoffs three times since

the 2003 season, and the balance of power has completely shifted in

the series.

New England won six straight from 2001 through the 2004 season.

Indy has won five of the last six, including last year’s memorable

game in which Patriots coach Bill Belichick turned the ball over

deep in his own territory after the Colts stymied a fourth-and-2

play. Indy rallied for the win.

”I think if you look at most of our games against Indianapolis,

they’ve all been very – most of them – have been very close,

whichever way they’ve gone,” Belichick said. ”I think the overall

competitiveness of the games would, (with) a play or two here or

there, (change) things in a little different direction.”

And perhaps change the perception of who is the better team –

regardless of the spin each puts on it.

”You can make an argument for a lot of different things,”

Belichick said. ”In the end, it’s each individual team and that

collection of players that particular year and that particular time

during the season or whatever it is, that was able to go out there

and be successful. … The Colts have done a great job over the

last decade – whatever it’s been. They’ve just been good, won a lot

of games and done it the right way.”